Las Vegas Sun

December 5, 2019

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These groups of state employees want recognition under new law

When Ken Edmonds moved to Las Vegas from Chicago, he was surprised at how his co-workers viewed management. Coming from a job in Chicago, he said was used to union representation.

Edmonds is a health care worker at Desert Regional Center, a state agency that offers services to adults and children with developmental and intellectual disabilities. He and his co-workers at the center have joined state corrections officers as the first groups of state employees to seek collective bargaining under legislation signed into law by Gov. Steve Sisolak this year. Both employee groups seek recognition as members of the American Federations of State, County and Municipal Employees. State troopers and others have also filed for recognition as members of the Nevada Highway Patrol Association.

“It was important to file because a law is just a law unless we're recognized … we wanted to make sure we had a voice here for the workers in the state of Nevada,” Edmonds said.

Bruce Snyder, commissioner of the Government Employee Management Relations Board, which oversees collective bargaining processes for the state, said he had heard that further filings were coming.

Collective bargaining is the method by which recognized employee groups and their employers negotiate work-related issues, which may include everything from job descriptions, work hours, wages and staffing levels to fringe benefits.

The law gives groups of state employees two-year windows in which to decide to organize and seek state recognition. Snyder said the current window will close in October 2020 with negotiations set to begin in November 2020. The results of any negotiations will not take effect until July 1, 2021, he said.

Before passage of the new law, which fulfilled a campaign promise of Sisolak, "The state was not required before to sit down with any union because they were not recognized," Snyder said.

Nevada is not the only state with collective bargaining for state employee groups. According to documents from Nevada’s Legislative Counsel Bureau, there are 28 states, including California, Washington and Oregon, with state employee groups that can bargain collectively.

Not all collective bargaining laws are equal. For example, Washington and a few other states limit bargaining for their state employees to conditions of employment. Kansas and South Dakota only allow bargaining for hours and conditions of employment.

Four states — Arizona, Colorado, Mississippi and West Virginia — have no laws allowing collective bargaining by state employee groups, while North Carolina and Virginia explicitly prohibit it.

Nevada’s collective bargaining law includes language that essentially allows the governor to override negotiated agreements.

"I know the governor's office was very adamant about that (addition to the legislation). They didn't want this to be a runaway train," Snyder said.

Snyder said the Government Employee Management Relations Board has sorted all 1,300 state employee job classifications into 11 categories eligible to organize and seek collective bargaining. They are:

• Labor, maintenance, custodial and institutional employees, including employees of penal and correctional institutions who are not responsible for security at those sites.

• Administrative and clerical employees, including legal support staff and employees whose work involves general office work, or keeping or examining records and accounts.

• Technical aides to professional employees, including computer programmers, tax examiners, conservation employees and regulatory inspectors.

• Professional employees who do not provide health care, including engineers, scientists and accountants.

• Professional employees who provide health care, including physical therapists and other employees in health-related fields.

• Employees, other than professional employees, who provide health care and personal care, including employees who provide care for children.

• Category I peace officers, which are the typical police officer, such as an officer that works for Metro.

• Category II peace officers, which are “special peace officers,” like those who work for the Gaming Control Board or the Nevada Transportation Authority,

• Category III peace officers, which are correctional officers.

• Supervisory employees from all occupational groups.

• Firefighters.

Edmonds said state workers should know that they have a voice.

"(We wanted to) just show people the union and the importance of having a voice and just letting them know that we do not have to be bullied by management," Edmonds said.