CCSD, teachers union remain ‘far apart’ on contract negotiation. So what’s next?
CCEA has a strong record of winning against CCSD in arbitration but hopes to avoid that path because a final decision often takes a year or longer to reach. (Photo: Ronda Churchill/Nevada Current)
A bitter battle between the Clark County School District and the Clark County Education Association over a new two-year contract for the district’s 18,000 licensed teachers and professionals may be inching toward a tipping point, with a key union meeting scheduled for Saturday.
CCEA previously announced it would give the school district until Aug. 26 to reach a deal before considering “work actions” – an intentionally ambiguous phrase that could range from the picayune to extremely disruptive or potentially illegal.
The district and union held its most recent bargaining sessions last week, on Thursday and Friday. CCEA Executive Director John Vellardita on Monday described where the parties stand as “far apart” and “unable to bridge the gap.”
“It was clear to us that the district came with no additional money from previous (bargaining) sessions,” he told the Current. “They moved some money around, but no additional money.”
CCSD declined to make someone available for an interview.
Vellardita says CCEA has asked the district to update the Clark County School Board trustees on the union’s counter proposal during their upcoming meeting on Thursday. That briefing will take place during a closed session, though the union is organizing a rally outside the building to make their presence and growing frustrations known. (A similar rally at the school board’s last meeting two weeks ago saw union members packing the meeting room and chanting, resulting in the meeting adjourning early.)
“We expect a response after the trustees meeting,” added Vellardita.
The trustees could prod the district toward progress, or they could let the existing stalemate stand. Whatever it is, that status will be shared with union members at a meeting scheduled for Saturday, said Vellardita. With that information, union members are expected to consider taking “work actions.”
When asked what work actions might encompass, union leaders have used the example of teachers not working past the 7 hours and 11 minutes they are contracted for. Among labor organizers, this is called work-to-rule. A similar concept dubbed “quiet quitting”has also entered the cultural zeitgeist more broadly.
CCEA leaders have thus far not explicitly called for a strike. Since 1969, Nevada state law has prohibited public employees from striking, and a court could fine the union up to $50,000 per day for an illegal strike.
CCEA President Marie Neisess on Tuesday acknowledged that many teachers have already expressed to her an appetite for more pronounced action, particularly given the combative tone they feel CCSD Superintendent Jesus Jara has taken in recent statements.
“From educators’ perspectives, their anger stems from not being able to do something above payday rallies, or just working contract days,” she added. “They are so fed up there isn’t a process other than ‘Let’s try to bargain in good faith.’ Because they don’t believe CCSD is bargaining in good faith.”
“I can’t speak to what course of action (members will want to take),” Vellardita said Monday. “Clearly we’re going to exercise our rights under the law. Within that context, they’ll determine what type of work actions.”
Even with the prohibition on public employees striking, the teachers union hasn’t been afraid of actively calling for a strike in the past. In 2019, CCEA members voted to authorize a strike, though a contract was negotiated prior to any action being taken. That explicit strike threat came amid a national wave of action that included educators across the country holding walkouts, sickouts and strikes — sometimes illegally.
In 2019, the union issued a statement saying it believes the law making striking illegal in Nevada is unconstitutional. At the time they vowed to “challenge this up through the Nevada Supreme Court.”
Nevada state law requires public employers and their collective bargaining units to meet a set number of times before declaring an impasse and shifting the dispute toward mediation and arbitration. CCSD and CCEA have met the threshold for calling an impasse, though both are still publicly stating they want to continue negotiations.
Vellardita says the union has a strong record of winning against CCSD in arbitration but hopes to avoid that path because a final decision often takes a year or longer to reach.
“We believe (arbitration) would lead to a lost school year. You won’t have happy teachers. You’ll continue to have high vacancies. You’ll continue to see people leaving the district because they see it isn’t investing in teachers. They won’t wait for an arbitrator’s decision.”
A prolonged arbitration would likely also frustrate elected officials, who after the 2023 Legislative Session publicly bickered about who could take credit for the historic levels of funding for the state’s beleaguered K-12 education system. That funding included more than $2 billion in additional money to the pupil-centered funding formula over the biennium, as well as a $250 million matching fund designed specifically to help school districts pay for raises.
Collective bargaining sessions are not public meetings, but some details have emerged through press releases and statements from both sides. CCEA has maintained it is fighting for across-the-board raises of 10% in year one and 8% in year two, as well as additional money for educators in hard-to-fill positions like special education.
CCSD has said it has offered 8.5% salary increases in the first year and 2% in the second year, with additional raises for around 3,300 employees who got short changed when the district bumped the starting salary of teachers without commensurate bumps for those already employed.
Additional sticking points surround health care contributions, the methods available for earning raises, and the definition of “hard to fill” positions.
The conflict between the district and teachers union is also playing out in the courtroom.
Eighth Judicial District Court Judge Jessica Peterson on Tuesday denied CCSD’s request for an injunction against CCEA, which the district had filed on July 31, shortly after the teachers union first spoke about the possibility of taking action if contract deal is not reached by Aug. 26.
Peterson said that while some of the statements made by Vellardita were “concerning,” they did not amount to there being an imminent threat of a strike.
She said she would entertain a swift return to court were that to change, which it could, depending on the appetite of union members on Saturday.
CCEA in a statement after the ruling called the decision “a victory for 18,000 educators and their First Amendment rights.” The union on Monday filed an anti-SLAPP special motion, which essentially argues that the district’s suit was frivolous and designed to chill teachers from using their First Amendment rights. SLAPP stands for strategic lawsuits against public participation.
“Hopefully Superintendent Jara and the trustees smell the coffee and see that they should be putting their efforts into bargaining at the negotiating table, and not manipulate the courts to force CCEA into a contract on CCSD’s terms,” read the union’s statement.
A statement released by the district in response to the ruling read: “While we are disappointed that an injunction was not granted, we are pleased that the court took CCEA’s threats seriously and warned CCEA that with any additional evidence of coordinated work stoppages, slowdowns, or interruption of operations, the parties will return to the court with a day’s notice.”
[Editor’s Note: This article has been corrected to reflect Judge Peterson’s ruling Tuesday. She denied CCSD’s request for an injunction but did not dismiss the lawsuit entirely.]
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