LAS VEGAS, NV – Three Las Vegas police unions are challenging the constitutionality of a new state law that prohibits local governments from allowing employees any paid leave to serve as representatives of labor organizations.
In a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday against the Metropolitan Police Department, the unions claim Senate Bill 241 amounts to “viewpoint discrimination” in violation of the First and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. The law took effect June 1.
“The Legislature does not prohibit paid leaves to work against labor organizations, nor to advocate for nonlabor groups,” according to the complaint. “The Legislature’s purported concern over public spending on advocacy also has not led it to restrict local government spending on lobbying (which amounted to over $3.3 million in the most recent year).”
The lawsuit was filed by the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, Las Vegas Police Protective Association Civilian Employees, and the Las Vegas Police Managers and Supervisors Association.
“They’re honoring other groups, and we’re being singled out as a labor group,” said Mark Chaparian, executive director of the Police Protective Association.
Attorneys Richard McCracken, Andrew Kahn and Paul More are representing the unions in the federal case.
For many years, according to the lawsuit, Metro and the groups have had provisions in their collective bargaining agreements allowing union officials paid leave “to engage in speech and association in the forms of advocating for members before government officials, learning from members about their concerns and problems, and informing and counseling members, all without the union directly reimbursing Metro for these expenditures.”
Under SB241, “A local government employer may agree to provide leave to any of its employees for time spent by the employee in performing duties or providing services for an employee organization if the full cost of such leave is paid or reimbursed by the employee organization or is offset by the value of concessions made by the employee organization in the negotiation of an agreement with the local government employer.”
The unions are seeking a permanent injunction to bar Metro from “relying in any way” on the provision, which takes effect upon expiration of the labor agreements. The labor agreement between the civilian employee union and Metro, which provided for paid union leave, expired July 1. The other agreements are to expire on July 1, 2016.
Reached Thursday evening, Sheriff Joseph Lombardo said he had not read the lawsuit.
“It’s unfortunate that they’ve chosen to go that direction when we’re not even in negotiations yet,” he said.
Lombardo also said he intends to abide by the law and added, “I’m not willing to negotiate currently the salaries and benefits of all my employees for, I believe, nine individuals.”
Seven officers are assigned full time to the Police Protective Association, which represents more than 2,800 police and corrections officers.
As a result of SB241, according to the lawsuit, the unions are threatened with “irreparable harms.”
“Without paid leave the unions’ officers face being fired if they tried to spend as much time working for and with employees as they have been spending up until now, and if plaintiff associations reimburse Metro for such leave they have less money to spend on their other advocacy and associational activities, and thus have to curtail such activities,” the complaint alleges.
According to the document, employee organizations serve “valuable public purposes,” such as reducing government problems in recruitment and retention of public employees.
SB241 has drawn conflicts elsewhere, including between Clark County and its largest union, the Service Employees International Union Local 1107.
The SEIU filed a complaint with the state’s Employment-Management Labor Relations Board over the county’s implementation of the new state law. That dispute arose because at the time, the contract between the SEIU and the county had expired and both sides had reached an impasse in negotiations.
The county stopped giving raises to employees, citing the new state law and the expiration of the contract. But the union argued that both sides were following the contract’s terms until a new deal was reached. The county also ordered the union president, Martin Bassick, to return to work, ending his paid union leave because of the expired contract.
Although the underlying complaint is pending, the county and SEIU have reached a new contract through arbitration, and Bassick is back on paid union leave. Some county employees are still affected, because certain types of raises, including merit and longevity, fall only on an employee’s anniversary date. That means those employees missed out on a year of raises, with the exception of cost-of-living increases that the arbitrator awarded.
Those hit directly by frozen raises were those with a hiring date that fell between June and late August, when the two sides reached a contract through arbitration. Merit pay increases, which come on an employee’s anniversary, would have gone to about 274 county employees each month had a contract been in place during the summer, according to county figures.