A new state law that limits taxpayer-funded union work became the latest front this week in a war between the city of Henderson and a police supervisors union.
The dispute, previously behind the scenes, became public Tuesday night when the City Council unanimously rejected a contract extension agreed to by city staff and the Henderson Police Supervisors Association.
Earlier, the union alleged in a filing with a state regulator that a top city official reneged on a deal reached after more than a year of stop-and-start talks. The city denies that, but the union has asked for a formal ruling that the city refused to bargain in “good faith.”
The newest battle is over Senate Bill 241, which the Nevada Legislature passed overwhelmingly this year. It says employees can do union work on government time — a practice known as “union leave” — only if the union reimburses the government for the hours or makes concessions in contract negotiations that cover the cost.
Henderson’s human resources director sent a letter June 23 saying the city planned to start billing the union for union work done on government time. The union president, Lt. Tom Chiello, said the city is interpreting the law too broadly and trying to make it retroactive.
The law has also been controversial in Clark County, where the largest employee union has challenged the way it’s being implemented. The county ordered the union president back to his regular job in June, citing the new law. The union said that was improper, since its current contract allows for county-paid union leave.
Last week, the Henderson city attorney wrote a memo telling the City Council the proposed extension of the police supervisors contract could pose problems since it doesn’t account for changes in union leave.
Tuesday’s vote to reject the deal came with no public debate, with dozens of union members and their relatives ’ most clad in blue union T-shirts ’ in the audience. The union represents 63 sergeants and lieutenants.
“That tells me they made a decision before they got in there,” Chiello said of the lack of debate.
Councilman John Marz said later that the deal was more generous than the city can afford and would have given police supervisors bigger raises than officers or other city workers have gotten. Other council members didn’t respond to requests for comment, and none explained their vote in public.
Instead, after public testimony had ended, Mayor Andy Hafen said: “I believe that we need to send this back for further discussion and negotiations, up to and maybe even including end-of-term bargaining.” That term refers to negotiating a new contract, rather than extending an existing one.
“So you’re making a motion to recommend renegotiating an extension that we already ratified?” asked Chiello, who was still standing at a lectern after asking the council to OK the deal.
“Yes,” Hafen replied.
Chiello then asked if the mayor was aware there’s a pending labor complaint about similar actions by the city.
“Yes,” Hafen said again.
The proposal rejected Tuesday was reached after the union and city negotiated, off and on, since early 2014. During a June 2 meeting, according to a union account, the sides came to an agreement and Assistant City Manager Fred Horvath announced to everyone, “We have a deal!”
But the next day, Horvath called Chiello to say “the HPSA should not waste its time obtaining ratification of the agreement, since the agreement would not be ratified by the City Council,” according to the complaint the union filed with the state’s Employee-Management Relations Board. The board has not ruled on the complaint.
In an interview, Horvath said the complaint mischaracterized what he said. He said he agreed to take the deal to the City Council because Chiello thought he could get three votes to pass it. Horvath said he simply told Chiello, as a ’professional courtesy,’ that he didn’t think it would pass and didn’t want Chiello to waste his time.
The fact the extension was presented to the council, Horvath said, disproves the claim that the city reneged on the offer.
Union members voted June 24 to ratify the deal. It included a retroactive 1.5 percent base pay raise for last year and a 2.5 percent increase this year, which would have cost the city an extra $159,000 and $374,000, respectively. Chiello told the council his members have not had a cost-of-living or base pay increase in seven years because of the squeeze the recession put on city spending.
While base wages haven’t increased, officers’ pay can go up for other reasons, including “step increases.” City records show that the pay of most sergeants and some lieutenants has continued to increase every year.