Clark County Teachers Union in Clear Violation of State Law

Geoffrey Lawrence

Last month, four schools managed by the Clark County School District were forced to close without providing any notice to families whose children attend those schools. Parents were forced to miss work unexpectedly to care for their children.

This continued a pattern that began at the beginning of the school year of schools being forced to close because so many teachers called in sick that the schools could not operate. It has continued sporadically since then.

Is a new pandemic circulating among teachers?

No. The rolling sickouts appear to follow a planned script for unionized teachers to carry out an illegal strike. The Clark County Education Association (CCEA), the recognized union for teachers in the school district, began threatening “work actions” back in July if its contract demands weren’t satisfied.

CCEA executive director John Vellardita repeated this threat across multiple outlets.

In particular, the union has demanded an 18 percent across-the-board pay raise, plus a $5,000 bonus for teachers in low-income schools, and an additional 5 percent for special education teachers.

A strike threat is significant because teacher strikes are illegal under Nevada law.

In 1991, Nevada lawmakers found that strikes by teachers are disruptive to public order and granted unions representing these workers a new power called binding arbitration.

Arbitration nullifies the need for striking because it effectively guarantees a union contract. Under arbitration, if the public employer and the union reach an impasse each party submits its best and final offer to an arbitrator, who reviews the claims and financial information of both parties. The arbitrator then chooses one or the other offer as the binding terms for a new union contract.

One of the factors considered by arbitrators is the employer’s “ability to pay,” which means all the money the employer has available may be promised to unions through a collective bargaining agreement.

Nevada’s public-sector unions have been the driving force in the legislature to install arbitration powers and have fought against efforts to remove these powers.

Recognizing the illegality of strikes under these laws, CCSD filed in August for an injunction against the planned strike. Judge Jessica Peterson ruled then that an injunction would be premature because there wasn’t enough evidence to show that a strike would occur.

The district filed a new motion on Sept. 11 in which it detailed the sickouts that occurred the week prior and alleged that these actions amounted to an illegal strike. The district had to show that the sickouts were coordinated by agents of the union and are not simply the rogue actions of individual workers.

In the new motion, the district revealed photos it received from a whistleblower of a PowerPoint presentation shown at a union meeting. The presentation called for “Rolling School Outs,” similar to threats leveled recently by Vellardita. The district’s lawyers noted that “Mr. Vellardita’s threats and the contents of the PowerPoint slide mirror the current rolling sickouts almost identically.”

Based on this evidence, Judge Crystal Eller ruled that a strike had occurred and issued an injunction. However, CCEA is appealing to the Nevada Supreme Court for an immediate stay on the injunction so it can continue its work stoppage actions designed to pressure the school district by depriving children of instruction time.

The union is doing all this despite having lobbied for decades to be folded into state laws conferring arbitration powers.

Perhaps the union believes its contract demands are so egregious that no arbitrator would select its proposal over the district’s proposal. Regardless, if the union is willing to subvert the ban on strikes that was coupled with its grant of arbitration powers, then those powers should be taken away.

States like North Carolina offer better educational outcomes for students despite allocating fewer dollars, in part, because those states ban unionization of government workers.

In fact, only 34 states require governments to engage in collective bargaining with any group of employees. The others offer public services either through optional collective bargaining or through a simple civil service schedule that must offer competitive rates to attract and retain workers.

In an empirical, 50-state review of collective bargaining laws, I and others found that mandatory collective bargaining laws increase the cost of government by $2,300-$3,000 for every taxpaying family of four.

After more than 50 years of control by teacher unions, Nevada’s educational system ranks among the worst in the nation. And now parents can’t even count on their child’s school being open.

Perhaps it’s time to consider a change.

Geoffrey Lawrence

Geoffrey Lawrence

Director of Research

Geoffrey Lawrence is director of research at Nevada Policy.

Lawrence has broad experience as a financial executive in the public and private sectors and as a think tank analyst. Lawrence has been Chief Financial Officer of several growth-stage and publicly traded manufacturing companies and managed all financial reporting, internal control, and external compliance efforts with regulatory agencies including the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.  Lawrence has also served as the senior appointee to the Nevada State Controller’s Office, where he oversaw the state’s external financial reporting, covering nearly $10 billion in annual transactions. During each year of Lawrence’s tenure, the state received the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting Award from the Government Finance Officers’ Association.

From 2008 to 2014, Lawrence was director of research and legislative affairs at Nevada Policy and helped the institute develop its platform of ideas to advance and defend a free society.  Lawrence has also written for the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation, with particular expertise in state budgets and labor economics.  He was delighted at the opportunity to return to Nevada Policy in 2022 while concurrently serving as research director at the Reason Foundation.

Lawrence holds an M.A. in international economics from American University in Washington, D.C., an M.S. and a B.S. in accounting from Western Governors University, and a B.A. in international relations from the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.  He lives in Las Vegas with his beautiful wife, Jenna, and their two kids, Carson Hayek and Sage Aynne.