Retiree benefit deduction riles teachers; contract questioned

Clark County School District teachers who’ve ignored union negotiations were surprised by a new $15 deduction for retiree health benefits in their paychecks Wednesday.

The compulsory deduction also has some infuriated teachers questioning the validity of the employee contract negotiated between the district and the Clark County Education Association. Less than 500 teachers voted for the contract, but now all 18,000 district teachers must pay the twice-per-month $15 deduction.

“It’s not the money but the principle,” said Ron Taylor, a middle school teacher and candidate for School Board District B. “If they can put in a $30 deduction (per month), the next time it might be a $100.”

Taylor also questioned the fairness of now making teachers finance a benefit for retirees who no longer work in the district and who may have moved out of state. Because teachers are expected to work for 10 years before they are eligible for retiree health benefits, Taylor said many new teachers will probably never be able to take advantage of the new plan.

The district and the union created the retiree health insurance fund in response to the Legislature’s decision to no longer allow new teacher retirees to join the state health insurance plan, said Peter Alpert, chief executive officer of Teachers Health Trust, which administers the retiree fund.

In addition to teacher contributions, the district also contributes $12.76 per teacher a month toward the fund, Alpert said.

Union officials said the benefit is necessary since more than 8,000 teachers are expected to retire over the next 15 years.

In a complaint filed Wednesday to coincide with the first payroll deduction, Taylor and 29 other teachers asked the Local Government Employee-Management Relations to issue an injunction to stop the payroll deductions, to authorize a new vote on the teacher contract and to allow non-union members to vote on the contract.

In his complaint, Taylor also faulted the Clark County School District and the School Board for allowing the deductions. District general counsel Bill Hoffman did not immediately return a phone call for comment Wednesday.

Association Executive Director John Jasonek called Taylor’s complaint a “desperate measure by a fringe School Board candidate to get some publicity.”

He also thought it was odd that a School Board candidate would want to renegotiate a contract that included 4 percent salary increases for teachers.

Taylor contended that the salary increases are protected by the Legislature and held out the possibility that teachers could get better pay increases with more aggressive bargaining.

Taylor also said the district should be paying for retiree health benefits with state funds, money he said has been mismanaged over the years by the union-created teacher health trust.

Taylor and Jasonek also disagreed on whether non-union members could vote on contracts. Taylor said Nevada, a right-to-work state, “allows for such opportunities,” but Jasonek said only union members could vote on union issues.

Teacher union members ratified the contract on May 27. Taylor said the ratification coincided with a teacher awards event for middle school and high school educators.

He said only 250 teachers out of 18,000 actually voted on the contract.

Jasonek put the number of ratification voters at about 400. He said the meeting was well-advertised in newspapers and was four hours long to give teachers ample opportunity to vote.

Taylor has also been fighting the union over what he considers a wrongful expulsion from the organization, but does not expect the case to be concluded until December.

During a hearing on the case Wednesday, union lawyer Francis Flaherty offered to let Taylor rejoin the union and pay his legal expenses. But Taylor said the offer was later rescinded when union officials learned of his new complaint against the payroll deductions.

Contact reporter James Haug at jhaug @reviewjournal.com or 702-799-2922.

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