Clark County teachers’ vote forces looming union decision

Come July, Clark County teachers will face an important choice — deciding where to send their dues and support.

They can keep their current membership with the Clark County Education Association, which voted on Wednesday to cut ties with the state and national unions.

“This is freedom,” CCEA head John Vellardita told the Review-Journal Thursday. “We’re not the ATM for these guys anymore.”

Or, they can join a new local union, called National Education Association-Southern Nevada, which will remain affiliated with the Nevada State Education Association and the National Education Association. The union was announced Wednesday after the disaffiliation vote succeeded.

“The new members of NEA-SN will have their voices heard in a collective manner with the NEA and NSEA in advocating for what’s best in public education here in Nevada and nationally,” Ruben Murillo, president of the Nevada State Education Association said at a news conference Thursday.

Teachers also can choose not to be represented by a union at all, as the existing groups continue to trade barbs with one another and promise members bottom-up leadership, better benefits and improved working conditions. A two-week period in July serves as the official renewal or drop period for the unions.

Nationwide trend

The recent moves aren’t unexpected, conflict has been escalating between the local and state union leadership since the 2017 legislative session. Completely cutting ties with the state and national unions is pretty rare, although it’s gaining traction, said Mike Antonucci, director of the Education Intelligence Agency.

Teachers in Memphis, Tennessee, and Santa Rosa, Florida, broke from their state and national ties in 2015. Last year, Carmel, Indiana, teachers did the same, said Antonucci, who describes himself as a one-man contract research firm studying the inner workings of unions.

But the Clark County’s disproportionate size makes Nevada a more interesting case, Antonucci said.

“CCEA is also unique among NEA locals in that it is a very large local in a small state affiliate. NSEA needs CCEA more than the reverse,” he said.

That’s a key point Vellardita stressed on Thursday. NSEA’s main funding source is gone after the vote, he said.

Vellardita has routinely said NSEA’s time as the state union is limited, and said the CCEA breakaway is the latest blow. He promised the union would increase services and support.

“We’ll do better than OK,” he said.

The vote was 697 to 99 in favor of leaving, an overwhelming majority but a fraction of the 10,800 members of the union.

To Murillo and the Clark County teachers who have pledged allegiance to the new union, that’s not a good sign for the local union and provides a new opportunity.

“Educational professionals deserve unity,” said Patricia Stevens, a special education teacher at Mendoza Elementary. ”Together, we have no limitations.”

Representation

CCEA is the recognized bargaining agent with the Clark County School District, and negotiation decisions made between the union and the district affect all teachers, regardless of their representation.

But if CCEA’s membership drops below 50 percent of teachers in the district, the new union can petition for recognition.

Vellardita doesn’t think that will happen, saying the move to start a new local is part of the playbook for the National Education Association and that the ousting of local representation has never been done.

But Murillo’s team said even if they don’t gain recognition status immediately, there are other ways to provide representation and support, he said.

“That’s doesn’t mean we’re not going to have input in bargaining or not speak publicly on the issues,” he said. “We will have a voice.”

Contact Meghin Delaney at 702-383-0281 or mdelaney@reviewjournal.com. Follow @MeghinDelaney on Twitter.

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