By Kristyn Leonard
Nearly half of the state employee groups granted collective bargaining rights under legislation passed last year are taking steps to certify their employee unions and begin bargaining with the state over working conditions.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 4041 said in a news release on Jan. 14 that the union has been certified to represent three units of state workers, including professional health care workers, non-professional health care workers such as dental assistants and pharmacy technicians, and category III peace officers such as correctional officers and forensic specialists.
Those three employee groups are part of 11 different units of state employees, classified by type of employment, identified in legislation passed in 2019 that allows state workers to select bargaining representatives and negotiate with the state over salary and certain specified benefits. So far, five of these units have selected unions for exclusive representation.
“We are one step closer to taking our seat at the bargaining table to negotiate wages, working conditions and safety on the job, and resources so we can continue to provide our communities with the best services possible,” Harry Schiffman, the president of Local 4041 and an electrician at UNLV, said in a statement.
AFSCME Local 4041 is one of several unions that represents state employees in Nevada, which have been organizing workers for more than 50 years but only gained the legally approved, official right to collective bargaining in 2019 under SB135, a bill signed by Gov. Steve Sisolak.
Employees in those units will select AFSCME Local 4041 members to form a team and negotiate their first contract with the state leading up to the 2021 legislative session.
Selecting a labor union for exclusive representation is the final step in the process workers must go through before contract negotiations can begin. Before this can occur, employees must form bargaining groups within their state-classified units and file for recognition with the state’s Government Employee-Management Relations Board.
In October, the Nevada Highway Patrol Association filed with the state to be the exclusive collective bargaining union for Category I peace officers, which includes highway patrol troopers, parole and probation officers, fire marshal’s, detectives, game wardens, park rangers, and university and capitol police.
The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) was selected by the Nevada State Law Enforcement Officers Association to represent Category II peace officers. This category includes positions such as criminal investigators and youth parole counselors.
So far, the remaining six units have not reached the number of participating workers necessary to file for recognition. Some of the worker categories included in these units are firefighters, administrative and clerical employees, and supervisory employees.
Local government employees were first afforded collective bargaining rights in 1969, and since the 1970s there have been multiple legislative attempts to extend those same rights to state employees. Although two bills passed in 1991 and 2009, both were vetoed by the governor, and no legislation was successfully signed until 2019.
However, even under the 2019 legislation, there are some notable limits on the collective bargaining rights of state workers — employees will not have the right to negotiate over health care, and the governor has the right to disregard salary demands when determining the state budget based on his executive discretion.
According to the timeline for anticipated implementation released by the Nevada Department of Administration, it is expected that each unit of state workers will have chosen and certified their exclusive representation by Oct. 31, with the actual bargaining process starting around Nov. 1.
During the 2021 legislative session, the governor will introduce bills for any collective bargaining agreements that require legislative action prior to the final Economic Forum revenue forecast released in the first week of May.
All successfully negotiated and funded collective bargaining agreements are expected to take effect on July 1, 2021.