Las Vegas Sun

February 27, 2024

Teachers union appeals court injunction against sickouts

CCSD School Closures

Brian Ramos

Exterior of Neil C. Twitchell Elementary in Henderson Tuesday, September 12, 2023.

Judge Issues Strike injunction Against CCEA

Attorneys Bradley Schrager, center, representing the Clark County Educational Association (CCEA), and Ethan Thomas, representing the Clark County School District, make arguments during a hearing at the Regional Justice Center in downtown Las Vegas Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023. John Vellardita, executive director of the CCEA, is seated to the left of Schrager. Launch slideshow »

The Clark County Education Association appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court today to block an injunction against what a District Court judge ruled a teachers strike.

“The terms of the injunction cannot be readily understood, cannot be fairly enforced, and must be stayed,” CCEA lawyers wrote in a motion to the state’s highest court.

Clark County District Court Judge Crystal Eller issued the injunction Wednesday against CCEA, the union that represents all 18,000 Clark County School District teachers, to cease sickouts that resulted in single-day closures of eight schools over the course of a week.

The incidents happened as the district and the union remain deadlocked in teacher contract negotiations. There were no additional school closures today, the School District said.

Eller ruled the teacher absences amounted to an illegal strike and that the union would be held responsible, even if not all of the absent teachers were dues-paying union members. Nevada law prohibits teacher strikes.

In its emergency motion filed today, the union panned Eller’s order as “facially invalid for vagueness, non-specificity and overbreadth.” The union said the Supreme Court should pause the injunction until it has the opportunity to decide whether the order was appropriate.

“The order states no findings, no reasons why it issued, does not state its terms specifically, and does not describe in reasonable detail the act or acts restrained or required,” the motion said.

The School District sued the union, its executive director, John Vellardita, and its president and vice president in July, citing comments made by union members and leadership that the district interpreted as credible threats to strike.

Union leaders and members said “work actions” were possible if the union did not have a new contract by Aug. 26.

At an Aug. 22 hearing, a judge said she found Vellardita’s comments “concerning” but stopped short of issuing an injunction, saying she didn’t have enough evidence to warrant it at the time.

The district filed another motion Monday, after three schools canceled classes the previous week because of teacher sick calls, seeking an emergency hearing to again consider an injunction to stop what CCSD said had gone from threat to reality.

The hearing was conducted Wednesday, the same day another school, Newton Elementary in Henderson, closed after more than 70% of its teachers called out.

Newton was the eighth school to close for a day since Sept. 1 because teachers called out sick. Staff shortages forced at least two other schools to make classroom adjustments to stay open.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Eller noted the number and widespread nature of school closures.

On Tuesday, for example, four schools, one in each corner of the valley, closed. She said it was “preposterous” to conclude so many teachers were coincidentally sick at those schools.

“It is more likely an indicator that there is a concerted effort to do exactly what has been threatened to be done by Mr. Vellardita and other people in public messages and public comments, and that is to systematically strike,” Eller said.

CCSD also presented to the judge what it said was a whistleblower complaint from a teacher at Southwest Career and Technical Academy, one of the schools closed Tuesday.

Although she did not admit into evidence an unauthenticated photo of what appears to be a slide at a CCEA meeting with the words “rolling school outs'' and “selective sick outs,” Eller did allow a poster-sized print of the image to be propped on an easel as “demonstrative.”

The union argued the injunction failed to allow due process in a case where “draconian” penalties could include striking teachers being fired.

State law also allows unions defying a no-strike order to be fined up to $50,000 per day, and officers up to $1,000 each per day.

Echoing an argument from Wednesday’s hearing, union lawyers did not dispute to the Supreme Court that “during the contentious negotiation of a new collective bargaining agreement between the CCSD and CCEA, there have been a raft of teacher call-outs for illness in Clark County schools, and a small number of school closures as a result.”

However, they disputed there was evidence linking their clients to the absence spikes or that the union and its leaders, and now all 18,000 teachers, could be held liable.

Union lawyers said that with CCSD declaring an impasse on Tuesday in new contract negotiations, sending the matter to an arbitrator to settle, it is now less likely that teachers might even consider sickouts an effective protest.

CCSD, the union argued, is not likely to suffer irreparable harm if the injunction stay is granted.

“This, of course, is where CCSD will object most strongly, that the potential for continued teacher absences is too great to justify a stay,” the union said. “But the rights of individuals not to be subject to such injunctions, where the penalties here might attach, is also great.”