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Reno wins Supreme Court ruling in firefighter layoffs

CARSON CITY — The Nevada Supreme Court on Wednesday gave a victory to the city of Reno in its decision in May to lay off 32 firefighters after federal funding that supported their positions ran out.

The court, in a unanimous decision written by Justice James Hardesty, found that a Reno District Court did not have the authority to grant a preliminary injunction in the labor dispute because the underlying grievance was not arbitrable under the parties’ collective bargaining agreement.

A District Court judge in Reno issued the preliminary injunction in June preventing Reno from completing scheduled layoffs. The order said that the union could prevail in administrative proceedings that haven’t yet happened, including taking the dispute before an arbitrator. Reno appealed that order to the state’s Supreme Court.

Clark County and other local governments in Southern Nevada were actively supporting Reno in the dispute.

Clark County’s brief argued that Reno, like other cities, has the power to manage its finances and make decisions through the separation of powers principle that prevents one branch of government from encroaching on another.

In the ruling, the court said District Judge Lidia Stiglich erroneously rejected the city’s contractual non-negotiable right to make budget-related reductions in force decisions. The court said that state law requires mandatory bargaining over the procedures for reduction in workforce, not the layoffs themselves.

“The parties’ bargained-for terms of personnel reduction are contained in Article 35, and require only that ‘reductions in force shall be in accordance with departmental seniority’ and ‘(n)o new employee shall be hired until all laid off employees have been given a reasonable opportunity to be rehired,’ ” Hardesty said in the decision.

“We further note that the reduction in force due to lack of funds is excluded from mandatory bargaining and reserved to the local government employer without negotiation by law,” the opinion said.

No layoffs are expected as a result of the ruling. The Reno City Council found funding to maintain the positions through the current fiscal year.

Reno City Manager Andrew Clinger called the decision a good one for all local governments because it solidifies the ability of management to make budget decisions.

“This opinion will not have a negative impact on our continued ongoing negotiations with IAFF,” Clinger said in a statement. “Our primary concern continues to be to provide the highest level of public safety for our residents.”

Contact Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900. Find him on Twitter: @seanw801.

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