Union might sue over pay increases

CARSON CITY — Union leaders said Wednesday they will likely sue if Gov. Jim Gibbons follows through on his decision not to offer state employees and teachers any type of salary increases, including “step” increases, in the next two-year budget.

Dennis Mallory, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 4041, said that workers have a “contractual agreement” in state regulations to receive these step increases. Mallory on Tuesday had said he supported the governor’s withholding raises, but later clarified he hadn’t understood that the proposal included step increases.
Mallory said he understood that the public might be upset over the issue of raises for government employees.

“The private sector now is laying off people and not giving raises. They are bottom-line driven,” he said. “But in the public sector, we’re being asked to do more with less.”

Nevada State Education Association President Lynn Warne said school districts in each county also will face lawsuits if teachers are not given these pay increases. The teacher contract in Clark County expires June 30.

“It would end up in court if the governor makes good on his threat,”  Warne said.

At issue are step increases, which are given to 57 percent of state employees and some two-thirds of teachers. For state employees, step increases end after 10 years of working for the state. Mallory said that for eligible state employees, step increases are worth 4.5 percent in additional pay each year.

For teachers in Clark County, step increases range between 2 to 4 percent and remain in effect for about 14 years, according to the Clark County Education Association.

State employees also are receiving a 4 percent cost-of-living increase in the fiscal year that ends June 30, which means that more than half of state workers are poised to get raises of  8.5 percent. They were given a 2 percent cost-of-living increase in 2007-08.

Teachers received the same cost-of-living increases that went to state workers during the last two years. That means a majority of Clark County teachers are receiving raises this year of between 6 and 8 percent.

Gibbons said Tuesday that “an increase is an increase” and the state cannot afford to give any kind of pay boosts during a recession. As a result, he will not propose any types of pay increases for state employees and teachers in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 budgets he submits to legislators in February.

Legislators also appropriate most funds for public education, but actual pay and incremental increases for teachers are approved during contract negotiations at the local level. So school districts, not the state would be sued, Warne said.

Before anyone starts suing, Gibbons’ communications director Daniel Burns said the governor wants to talk with the employee group leaders to see if they can reach a mutual solution.

“The money we have is finite,” Burns said.

Gibbons, on his own, cannot deny salary increases. Legislators would have to approve his spending plan during the 2009 session that begins Feb. 2.

Both houses now are controlled by Democrats, while the governor is a Republican.

Legislators and the governor have cut state spending by $1.5 billion in the last year because of declining state tax revenue. The Economic Forum decided Dec. 1 that state government will have $5.65 billion to spend in the next two-year budget period, or $1.2 billion less than under the current budget.

Because of the state’s worsening financial outlook, Mallory said the responsibilities of state employees have increased because of a job freeze that has left 2,700 jobs vacant. And when state employees are hired for a job, Mallory said they are shown the pay range for that position.

For example, the employee may begin at  $30,000 a year, but his or her pay will increase to $54,000 after 10 years because of step increases, he said. 

“If you work for state government, you understand you get this,” he said. “It is in job announcements.”

He also said that legislators “need to increase revenue” through tax increases.

Although Mallory’s organization does not have collective bargaining rights, it does represent state employees in grievance hearings and lobbies on their behalf for salary increases in the Legislature. Mallory noted that in the early 1990s, the State of Nevada Employees Association, which also did not have collective bargaining rights, went to court and won the reinstatement of a 4 percent salary increase that Gov. Bob Miller sought to deny employees during  an economic downturn.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 4041 represents state workers in grievances but does not collectively bargain on their behalf. Of the 17,000 state employees, about 5,000 pay union dues. Local 4041 now secures power of attorney from its members to represent them in grievance hearings before the state Personnel Commission and has been permitted to represent all state employees on some matters, according to Mallory.

It could use the same procedure in representing them in a lawsuit over denied salary increases.

But two legal sources who asked not to be named said that courts would first decide whether to accept a lawsuit from Mallory’s employee group. A judge might find the union has standing and sufficient interest to bring a lawsuit over denied pay, since it does have some state employees as members.

Mallory could demand that the state enforce laws or regulations on pay scales and his case might be accepted for his and other state employees, the sources said.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.

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