Police union, state heading to arbitration over collective bargaining contract disagreements

Trooper Brian Eby traffic stop

The state employee union representing Nevada Highway Patrol and hundreds of other state police officers is headed to arbitration over disagreements on pay, body cameras and seniority provisions in the union’s first ever collective bargaining contract with the state.

The Nevada Police Union — which represents the 735 highway patrol troopers, parole and probation officers, university police, public safety workers and other state-employed police included in the Category I Peace Officers category — was the only one of four recognized state worker collective bargaining groups to not reach a deal with the state ahead of the end of the 2021 legislative session last month. Arbitration sessions are scheduled for July.

The three other employee unions representing a different class of state law enforcement officers, firefighters and four bargaining units represented by AFSCME all reached agreements with the state shortly ahead of the end of the 2021 Legislature, locking in a greater pay increase and other benefits beyond the 1 percent cost-of-living adjustment offered to all other non-union state employees. 

But the impasse between the state and the Nevada Police Union came over three issues — body cameras, seniority and compensation.

According to a “last best and final offer” filing made by the state and submitted to an arbitrator, the union sought to limit law enforcement supervisor review of body camera footage to only be allowed under “reasonable suspicion” or in the case of a public complaint. The state wrote that the proposal would create an “absurd (and unlawful)” process where supervisors had less of a right to view body camera footage than the general public.

The filing also stated that the union requested that seniority be “the default factor in determining every issue, including scheduling, equipment and training.” Such a proposal, the state said, “blatantly infringes on the State’s inherent management rights and is non-negotiable” under existing law.

The union also sought a 2 percent pay raise, annual longevity bonus payments of $500 and annual education bonuses — $900 annually for any employee with a bachelor’s degree, and $500 annually for any employee with an associate’s degree. The state had offered a 3 percent pay raise.

In a statement, Nevada Police Union spokesman and lobbyist Paul Klein said that the union was seeking additional compensation for state police because of the vast pay disparities between them and local government police agencies — pointing to information from the state Department of Public Safety showing greater than 100 percent turnover in each of the last three years.

“Nevada Police Union is hopeful the collective bargaining process helps improve and professionalize the working environment for the brave women and men of law enforcement that protect Nevadans,” Klein said in an email.

However, the state wrote in its filing that any additional compensation in a collective bargaining agreement would be moot at this point, as the 2021 Legislature adjourned last month and the state “simply does not have the authority to agree to additional direct compensation that has not been appropriated by the Legislature.”

An attorney for the state wrote that final authority on whether to increase pay was a “political decision” for the Legislature, noting that state lawmakers declined to set aside any money or build in any raises for employees in the bargaining unit covered by the Nevada Police Union during the session — even though the union specifically asked for $2.1 million for a 3 percent raise to be set aside for those employees.

The impasse had been pending for months — according to the filing, the state and police union began meeting in November 2020 and met five additional times through February 2021, ultimately declaring an impasse on the three issues. The sides also engaged in six additional mediation sessions from March through May, but “mediation was ultimately unsuccessful” and additional negotiation and mediation dates were allegedly declined by the union.

An attorney for the state wrote that negotiating sessions with the union “proved difficult,” saying the union refused to offer proposals or counter proposals.

Nevada lawmakers in 2019 approved legislation granting collective bargaining rights for state employees, a long-held goal of the labor movement and promised by Gov. Steve Sisolak on the 2018 campaign trail.

The legislation created 11 different groups of state employees, classified by employment, as employee groups that could select bargaining representatives and negotiate with the state over salaries and other benefits. But the legislation also allows the governor to have an effective veto on wages or other monetary compensation regardless of any approved collective bargaining agreement.

In order to be recognized as a bargaining unit and kick-start the collective bargaining process, a potential union has to show that it represents at least 50 percent of employees in any given occupational group before it files for recognition with the state’s Government Employee-Management Relations Board.

Raiders, Golden Knights tickets could be assessed state’s 9 percent ticket tax after years of carve-out

Head out to a concert or show on the Las Vegas Strip once the COVID pandemic is over, and the operator of the event will add a 9 percent Live Entertainment Tax (LET) fee to your ticket.

But if a person attends a Vegas Golden Knights or Las Vegas Raiders home game, that fee won’t be assessed. 

Since 2015, Nevada has exempted professional sports teams from having to pay the Live Entertainment Tax, but that would change under Sen. Dina Neal’s SB367. The bill was heard Tuesday afternoon in the Senate Revenue and Economic Development Committee.

Neal said the state’s current bottoming out of Live Entertainment Tax revenues during the pandemic presents a golden opportunity for lawmakers to create tax parity and require professional sporting teams to pay the same tax that the state’s gaming industry and other live entertainment events have to pay.

“I can guarantee five years from now, they're not going to willingly walk themselves into a tax base when they're making millions,” she said.

But high-ranking representatives of the Raiders and Golden Knights said the tax would have a disparate impact on their operations, hurt local fans and deter other professional sports teams from relocating to Nevada.

“When the Golden Knights chose Vegas as the place they wanted to come, that was one of the conditions that they were relying on, and that is that there was no tax on that,” Golden Knights Chief Legal Officer Chip Siegel said. “It will be a deterrent effect for NBA, MLB, MSL, etc., who will consider this excise tax when they're making their decisions.”

Nevada’s Live Entertainment Tax was enacted in 2004 and underwent a major revision in 2015. It levies a 9 percent tax based on the admission charge for any facility that provides live entertainment with a minimum occupancy of 200 seats or individuals.

The definition of “live entertainment” is one of the more complex and heavily lobbied terms found anywhere in state law. As it currently stands, live entertainment is defined as “any activity provided for pleasure, enjoyment, recreation, relaxation, diversion or other similar purpose by a person or persons who are physically present when providing an activity to a patron or group of patrons who are physically present.”

That broad definition includes several activities including concerts, dancing (including strip clubs), acting or drama, acrobatics or stunts performed by animals or humans, comedy or magic, a performance by a disc jockey and even a paid escort who is “escorting one or more persons at a location or locations in this State.”

But lawmakers, in amending the tax in 2015, decided to make a narrow exemption for any “athletic or sporting contests, events or exhibitions” provided by a “professional team” based in the state.

Neal — who at the time the bill was passed was a member of the Assembly — said she went back and couldn’t find a reason for the exemption in legislative history. But she said that lawmakers at the time had come to an agreement “behind closed doors” to create the carve-out as a “carrot” to help attract professional sporting teams to the state.

The Democratic lawmaker said she understood the logic at the time, but said the state often runs into an issue where a business receives an incentive and never wants to give it back up.

“I understand the carrot, but they're here,” she said. “And then, I couldn't figure out what would be the legal argument for someone not to pay the live entertainment tax, and you're performing live entertainment.”

The bill itself would remove that exemption for professional sports teams, and a proposed amendment submitted by Neal would again carve out amateur and minor league sports teams. It would also lower the capacity limit in a carveout for live entertainment events hosted by a nonprofit organization, changing the capacity from 7,500 to 5,000 before the live entertainment tax has to be paid.

In the last fiscal year before the pandemic, the LET brought in more than $131 million in tax revenue to the state. But those totals plummeted during the pandemic, down to $6.2 million in fiscal year 2021, or a 93 percent drop. 

The measure was lauded by unions and progressive groups, who said it would provide a more diverse and fairer revenue stream for the state going forward.

“There is a real disparity between some groups paying their LET and some being exempted,” AFSCME lobbyist Carter Bundy said. “The more of these exemptions that we can close, the fairer it'll be for everyone.”

But representatives of the state’s two professional sports teams — the NFL’s Raiders and NHL’s Golden Knights — testified in opposition to the bill. Raiders President Marc Badain said the team specifically discussed and included the lack of a direct tax on tickets as part of the team’s decision to move to Nevada, and he said imposing the tax on professional sports teams would be viewed as a negative for leagues and teams considering expanding or moving to Las Vegas.

“Changing the terms of such a negotiated deal before any fans have even attended the game at the stadium is not the spirit of the partnership that brought the team to Nevada,” he said.

According to an analysis by TicketIQ, the estimated price of a ticket purchased on the secondary market for the Raiders in the 2020-21 session was about $1,100, though the team opted to not allow fans in games during the season. The Raiders’ own site lists the cheapest available tickets to be around $500 per seat for direct sales. 

State lawmakers in 2016 approved allocating $750 million in hotel room taxes to help the team build a new $1.9 billion stadium in Las Vegas, the largest ever public subsidy in raw dollars granted for a U.S. stadium. The team also negotiated a provision in its stadium lease allowing the team to break the contract if any “targeted tax” is applied and directly or effectively affects the team, stadium, spectators, players or team officials.

Siegel said the Golden Knights — who charge an average ticket price of about $173, according to SeatGeek.com —  believed that imposing the tax on hockey games would primarily hurt locals and not tourists, and said the proposal would have a “disparate impact” on the team.

“Vegas Golden Knight ticket sales are overwhelmingly to local buyers, and this tax will ultimately hurt these local fans,” he said. “This is not tourists that are generally going to the games, these are locals.”

State, unions move closer to certifying collective bargaining agreements for nearly 5,400 state employees

Audience members posing for a photo before the AFSCME Public Service Forum

Five of the 11 categories of state workers granted collective bargaining rights in 2019, representing nearly 5,400 employees, have reached tentative agreements with the state, one of the last hurdles remaining in organized labor’s decades-long goal to unionize the state government workforce.

In a joint press release issued Tuesday, AFSCME Local 4041 President Harry Schiffman and state Department of Administration Director Laura Freed announced that a tentative collective bargaining agreement including economic and non-economic provisions had been reached for four of the 11 occupational groups represented by the union.

“We are proud of the dedication and determination state employees have shown over the years to make collective bargaining a reality,” Schiffman said in a statement. “This contract lays a strong foundation to improve working conditions for state employees and the services we provide to our communities for generations to come.”

It’s the second such tentative agreement reached between an employee bargaining unit and the state in recent weeks; the Nevada State Law Enforcement Officers Association, which represents Category II Peace Officers (positions including criminal investigators and youth parole counselors), announced a tentative agreement late last month.

The collective bargaining contracts now have to be ratified by union members and then approved by the State Board of Examiners (composed of statewide elected officials including the governor, attorney general and secretary of state.) If approved, the governor would then submit the agreement and budget amendments to the Legislature representing any negotiated economic provisions (though the governor, under the 2019 law maintains an effective veto over any negotiated monetary concessions).

Terms of the agreement, as well as any price tag, won’t be released publicly until the tentative contracts are ratified by union members. But state officials said that the tentative agreements were a major step forward

“Both sides worked diligently to find common ground and reach meaningful compromises,” Freed said in a statement. “We absolutely value our state employees and the critical services they provide to Nevadans, and this agreement recognizes that while also honoring the responsibility we have to ensure state programs are administered efficiently and effectively.”

Of the 11 categories of state workers designated in the 2019 legislation, seven have organized and formed exclusive bargaining units to negotiate with the state. They include:

  • Labor, maintenance and custodial (1,551 employees in the bargaining unit); professional healthcare (1,234); non-professional healthcare (748); and Category III peace officers/corrections officers (1,769). All four are represented by AFSCME Local 4041.
  • Category I Peace Officers (735), represented by the Nevada Police Union. 
  • Category II Peace Officers (110), represented by the Nevada State Law Enforcement Officers Association.
  • Firefighters (55), represented by Battle Born Fire Fighters Association.

Not all negotiations are proceeding smoothly — the Nevada Police Union, which represents Category I Peace Officers (about 735 highway patrol troopers, parole and probation officers, fire marshals, detectives, park rangers and university and capitol police) filed a complaint on Monday with the Employee-Management Relations Board alleging state negotiators had engaged in “bad faith bargaining practices.”

The complaint alleges that the state provided “deceitful data” in a document purporting to show how other similar collective bargaining agreements treated policies for paid time for union business, regressive bargaining practices in negotiated leave time and other tactics that “spits in the fact of the Nevada Legislature’s established purpose behind its adoption of state-wide collective bargaining.” 

“We are paid approximately 20 to 30 percent less than our counterparts working for a municipal agency. Our benefits and working conditions are well below the state average. We think it is only fair to ask for contractual agreements with the state that every other law-enforcement agency in Nevada provides their police officers,” Nevada Police Union president Matthew Kaplan said in a statement.

In an email, a spokeswoman for the Department of Administration said the agency had 20 days to respond to the complaint and intended to respond, but was disappointed that negotiations had moved to the complaint stage.

“We are disappointed that they felt it was necessary to take this to EMRB, but we look forward to (a) successful resolution of this negotiation to add to the two successful tentative agreements we’ve reached with other unions,” the agency said in a statement. “We are proud of the immense work our team has put in toward reaching agreements, and we are confident that we can ultimately move forward successfully with this one.”

The agency said it is still negotiating a contract with the union representing state-employed firefighters, saying the delay was because that bargaining unit was organized later than the others.

Nevada lawmakers in 2019 approved legislation enacting collective bargaining rights for state employees, a long-held goal of the labor movement and something promised by Gov. Steve Sisolak on the 2018 campaign trail.

The legislation created 11 different groups of state employees, classified by employment, as employee groups that could select bargaining representatives and negotiate with the state over salaries and other benefits. But the legislation also allows the governor to have the final say on wages or other monetary compensation despite any approved collective bargaining agreement.

In order to be recognized as a bargaining unit and kick-start the collective bargaining process, a potential union has to show that it represents at least 50 percent of employees in any given occupational group before it files for recognition with the state’s Government Employee-Management Relations Board.

Updated at 4:26 p.m. on March 9, 2021, to correct the number of affected state employees that would be covered by the collective bargaining agreements.

Furloughs would help fill state’s budget shortfall; opposed by state workers

A key plank of Gov. Steve Sisolak’s plan to balance the budget by freezing merit pay and implementing once-a-month furloughs for state employees was sharply panned by many state workers during the proposal’s first public hearing.

As proposed, implementing furloughs and merit pay freezes for the state’s 18,000 employees would save the state a combined $66 million ($51.7 million from state workers and $14.3 million from merit pay freezes), which would help address the $1.2 billion shortfall in the state budget.

But more than a dozen state workers, who testified against the bill (AB1) during a hearing in the Assembly on Saturday, said the state should not balance its budget through cuts to its workforce. 

Paige Menicucci, one of the workers who testified, said that she’s putting in more hours during the COVID-19 pandemic while working from home. She previously lost her job working for a local regional quasi-governmental agency during the Great Recession and said the furloughs and pay freezes would cause hardship for her and other state workers.

“We’re working families. I drive from Reno to Carson to go to work because I’m passionate about what I do,” Menicucci said. “I want to do something for our state and to do something that’s right and this bill is not right for our state and it’s not right for our employees.”

AB1 would require state employees to take the equivalent of one unpaid furlough day a month, with a sliding scale requiring part-time workers employed by the state to take a proportional amount of unpaid time off.

The bill creates an equivalent “premium holiday” for state agencies paying into the Public Employees’ Benefits Program (PEBP). That means state agencies for one month of the fiscal year will pay their normally set aside state subsidy share of the health insurance program into the state's general fund, rather than into PEBP.

The bill does create some exemptions to the furlough requirement. Any agency with employees in a field of “critical need,” including public health, safety or welfare, can opt to not require employees take the furlough days, but instead requires them to reduce their salary by a proportional amount (4.6 percent) as if they had taken furlough days.

The bill will also exempt employees of the state Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs. That agency, which is funded by hotel room taxes, has already cut weekly hours of division employees to 32 hours a week, which is equivalent to a once-a-week furlough.

But several Democratic legislators appeared hesitant to apply an across-the-board furlough policy for state employees, asking if it would be possible to limit furloughs for those on the lower end of the salary scale, 

Department of Administration Director Laura Freed said the majority of state workers (more than 10,700) make less than $60,000 a year, with the rest broken down as follows:

  • 3,173 employees making between $60,000 and $69,999 annually
  • 1,784 employees making between $70,000 and $79,999 annually
  • 832 employees making between $80,000 and $89,999 annually
  • 1,602 employees making more than $90,000 annually

Democratic Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe Moreno said her biggest concern with the legislation is that the furlough and subsequent decrease in salary for state workers on the lower end of the salary spectrum would in turn may need to use social or medical programs offered by the state but are at risk of having their budgets slashed to address Nevada’s budget shortfall.

“If they take that one day of furlough, 12 days in total, has a greater impact on the income coming into their home,” she said. “They would have to use, as my colleague mentioned, some of those services that we are also being faced with cutting.”

Fellow Democratic Assemblywoman Heidi Swank suggested that state workers on the higher end of the pay scale be required to take additional furlough days, which would “(spread) the pain out in ways that don't overly burden folks that are not making as much money as people who are at the upper levels.”

Freed said that it would take the department several days to run the analysis to estimate savings if certain categories of state workers had to take additional furlough days.

Republican Assemblyman Greg Hafen III suggested during the hearing that lawmakers, who are currently not affected by the bill given constitutional prohibitions on changing legislative salaries during their terms of office, should donate or give up a portion of their salary in solidarity with state workers. 

Legislators, who are normally paid $160 a day for the first 60 day of normal legislative sessions, opted to voluntarily reduce their salary by 4.6 percent in the 2011 session to match similar furloughs asked of state workers, a move that returned a combined $25,000 back to the state.

More than a dozen public employees testified against the legislation, which they said unfairly placed the burden of balancing the state’s budget on the backs of workers.

Ken Edmonds, another state employee, suggested that lawmakers were taking the easy way out by proposing the furloughs and pay freezes instead of raising taxes on corporations.

“State workers and the communities we serve are always asked to make sacrifices while corporations enjoy low tax rates, subsidies and deductions,” Edmonds said. “It’s time for corporations to share in this sacrifice.”

The state workers have been supported by AFSCME Local 4041, which represents several categories of state workers granted rights in 2019 to collectively bargain with the state for pay and benefits. The union has sharply criticized Sisolak’s plan for furloughs, filing an Unfair Labor Practices complaint against his administration last month.

No one testified in favor of or neutral on the legislation.

Correction at 6:11 p.m. on Saturday, July 11, to correct information on how the bill affects the state's Public Employees' Benefits System.

State employee union files unfair labor complaint, plans rallies to protest Sisolak budget cut plans

AFSCME workers prepare to unionize

Members of the union representing most state employees have filed an unfair labor practices complaint and plan to hold rallies protesting against Gov. Steve Sisolak’s “refusal to bargain” over changed working conditions and furloughs.

In a press release sent on Friday, representatives of AFSCME Local 4041 said they had filed the complaint with the state labor relations board, and planned to hold Saturday rallies at the Governor’s Mansion in Carson City and in Las Vegas to protest non-involvement in dealing with the state’s COVID-19 related budget crisis.

Members of the union said that Sisolak has “not responded to numerous overtures from state employees and their union” regarding the Democratic governor’s plan to implement once-a-month furloughs for state workers to help deal with the anticipated $1.27 billion shortfall for the upcoming fiscal year, or about 25 percent of the budget.

“We’re on the frontlines. We know where there are potential savings and ways to save services and jobs,” AFSCME Local 4041 president Harry Schiffman said in a statement. “The way the governor is acting is a disgrace to our state and a disservice to all Nevadans. He needs to come out of hiding and talk to us.”

AFSCME represents several categories of state employees granted the right to collectively bargain following passage of legislation in 2019 signed by Sisolak. The final version of the bill was amended to allow the governor to effectively ignore any negotiated salary demands when crafting the state budget.

AFSCME supported the governor’s 2018 campaign and contributed more than $3.7 million to a political action committee supporting Sisolak and attacking his Republican opponent, Adam Laxalt.

AFSCME's Prohibited Practice Complaint by Riley Snyder on Scribd

AFSCME's Prohibited Practice Complaint by Riley Snyder on Scribd

On party-line vote, lawmakers approve first step of Sisolak plan addressing $812 million budget shortfall

The Nevada Legislature building

Nevada lawmakers have voted to accept Gov. Steve Sisolak’s initial plan to address an $812 million hole in the state’s budget, including $88 million in cuts, a major step to address the financial damage of the COVID-19 pandemic and related business shutdown.

The vote came during a Friday meeting of the Interim Finance Committee, which directs financial operations of the state while the Legislature is not in session, and split down party lines with all Republicans on the board opposing the motion over transparency concerns. 

Outside of a few technical adjustments, the plan adopted by lawmakers largely followed what Sisolak’s office unveiled on Tuesday. Plummeting tax revenues from the COVID-19 related nonessential business shutdown helped lead to an $812 million shortfall in the state's $4.4 billion fiscal year budget, leading Sisolak to declare a “fiscal emergency” last month and take drastic steps to address the budget hole.

The plan adopted by lawmakers included a combined $88 million in cuts to executive branch agencies and reversions of dollars appropriated for one-time use. It also relies on $401 million taken out of the state's “Rainy Day” budget reserve fund, federal reimbursement through the CARES Act and a host of other transfers. Nevada is constitutionally required to have a balanced budget, unlike Congress, which can spend from a deficit.

Susan Brown, director of the Governor’s Office of Finance, said more specific details about state agency cuts would come during the committee’s next scheduled meeting on June 25. She also said that lawmakers will also have the opportunity during that meeting to go over another $107 million in potential cuts and savings identified by the budget office, including bond and interests payments and $25 million in construction funds for a UNLV medical school.

But Republican lawmakers on the committee said that the plan provided by the governor’s office and adopted Friday ignored potential input and collaboration with the legislative branch and gave too much power and oversight to the governor’s office.

Republican Sen. Ben Kieckhefer said he understood and agreed with many of the proposed reductions in spending, but said he was frustrated with the “one-directional” and not collaborative process in addressing the budget shortfall.

“The notion that this is a step in the process and then we're going to do what the governor tells us to do next is not the way I want to go about this process,” he said. “I don't think it's healthy.”

Republican Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer said he was also concerned about transparency and said state leaders should have begun preparing the budget cut process back in March when the initial business shutdown began and tax revenue from the casino industry dried up.

“I appreciate the fact that we have an emergency,” he said. “But I think that emergency could have been made a lot softer, if we would have done this planning and cuts sooner.”

But Democratic Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, who chairs the committee, said that lawmakers had to deal with the situation as they could and this budget cut plan was one of several steps that lawmakers will take to deal with the budget issues.

“I believe that this committee has a responsibility to fulfill its duties to address the shortfalls that are happening in this fiscal year, knowing full well that it's not going to all happen at one time,” she said.

Several lawmakers also raised concerns that the funding plan would leave the state’s main budget account below a five percent ending fund balance — something not required in state law but traditionally done because it affects the state’s bonding capacity and fiscal health. Brown said that the current fiscal year would leave the state about $50 million short of that five percent figure, and much closer in the 2021 fiscal year.

Carlton said that it would be desirable to get to that ending fund balance figure, but that she and other policy makers were not willing to make additional cuts to core services just to hit a certain percentage.

“I think every state in the union is in a position to where they're not sure where their ending fund balances are going to actually be,” she said. “Something that I've said many, many times in the Legislature is that you don't put money in your savings account if you can't afford to feed your kids.”

Lawmakers and budget officials are somewhat limited in what kinds of cuts they can consider outside a full legislative session. All of the cuts approved on Friday came from the state’s authorizations budget bill, which includes language allowing budget officials to make cuts of no more than 15 percent from individual agencies.

But making other cuts or changes to the state’s budget — an idea floated by some Republican lawmakers — would likely require a special legislative session.

State leaders have made it clear that a special session to address ongoing budget issues, as well as some potential criminal justice reforms, is on the horizon.

If and when lawmakers do meet, they’ll likely have to focus on squaring an estimated $1.3 billion revenue shortfall in the state’s upcoming fiscal year, which begins in July. Already, Sisolak has announced budget cutbacks including monthly furloughs and merit pay freezes for state workers, as well as about 50 anticipated layoffs.

Although Friday’s meeting was focused on dealing with the budget woes for the current fiscal year, most of the public comment for the meeting was dominated by discussion about the furloughs and effect on the state’s workforce.

Many individuals and groups said that state lawmakers should try to balance out the cuts with increases in tax revenue elsewhere; the Nevada State Education Association called for a one-to-one match of any spending cuts with new revenue. 

Harry Schiffman, president of AFSCME Local 4041, said that lawmakers need to ensure that state employees (newly empowered with the right to collectively bargain after the 2019 Legislature) cannot go through the same prolonged salary freezes and years of furloughs that occurred during the last economic downturn.

“Every time our state falls on hard times, state employees are always on the menu,” Schiffman said. “Now, we demand a seat at the table.”

Report: Nevada continues to rely heavily on isolating inmates, including some with serious mental illness

The Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City, Nevada

Nevada prison officials made headlines in 2017 when they told lawmakers that some inmates with serious mental illness had been in solitary confinement for years — potentially violating the Constitution — and promised the agency was moving away from the practice.

But a new report from the Vera Institute of Justice indicates the problem has not been fully resolved: The group found that more than 12 percent of Nevada prison inmates are in “segregation” — a number that researchers say is on the high end relative to other states — and some in isolation have serious mental illness. They also found that while the number of people explicitly sent to segregation as punishment went down, there was an increase in the number of people sent to segregation for murky and ill-documented “administrative” reasons.

“I think that the Vera report just solidifies and validates everything we say has been occurring with solitary confinement practices in the Nevada Department of Corrections,” said Holly Welborn, policy director at the ACLU of Nevada, which has pushed bills to limit the practice and published a report in 2017 with firsthand accounts of people who spent time in segregation. “It’s a process that’s overused.”

There’s no standard definition of “segregation” or “restrictive housing,” but it generally refers to a situation in which a person is removed from a prison’s general population and confined to a cell — either alone or with a cellmate — for 22 to 24 hours a day with few if any formal activities. 

“Often the argument for solitary is for safety, right? It's to keep the prison safer, to keep society safer,” said Elena Vanko, one of the Vera Institute researchers who worked on the Nevada report. “But there really isn't the evidence to support that solitary ... changes people's behavior or deters misbehavior.”

Through a document review, site visits and focus groups with staff and inmates, Vera found that out-of-cell time varies widely in Nevada institutions. Although policies call for activities in the units, the inmates there do not have jobs, small-group recreation or other social activities — confinement that some inmates in the ACLU’s 2017 report said changed their personalities and made them feel “like we are lost to the world.”

“People’s brains are literally deteriorating. Being caged in the hole makes people angry, violent, and bitter,” wrote one inmate, “Alex.” “There is nothing positive about this, all it does is create monsters.”

But the Vera report also reaffirmed Nevada Department of Corrections (NDOC) administrators, under the direction of recently departed Director James Dzurenda, were committed to making progress on the practice. Researchers noted that NDOC had reduced the maximum length of disciplinary segregation sanctions to 60 days for most offenses, down from two years or more, and moved many seriously mentally ill inmates out of solitary and into a mental health unit.

Vera is urging even more changes, suggesting that maximum terms of segregation be reduced to 30 days, and even then only in response to the most serious and violent offenses. The new leader of the agency, NDOC Acting Director Harold Wickham, said in a statement that the report should be helpful for implementing changes.

“Vera Institute has demonstrated in other states like Washington and Louisiana that it’s possible to improve prison safety and public safety by significantly reducing the numbers of people in isolation,” Wickham said. “The results of this study will provide Nevada’s political and prison leadership alternatives to large-scale reliance on segregation and isolation.”

Correctional officers on the ground say they want to be involved in the conversation.

“As front-line workers, we hope NDOC will include correctional officers and non-custody staff in discussions about any and all departmental policy changes,” George Davis, a senior correctional officer and president of the AFSCME Local 4041 Great Basin Chapter, said in a statement.

Here are some takeaways from the report, which was developed with funding from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance.

A cell that holds two inmates as seen Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018 at the Florence McClure Women's Correctional Center. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Isolating conditions in segregation

Part of Vera’s study involved site visits to five Nevada prisons and a focus group for people who had experienced segregation.

“We heard from a lot of people that it was just very isolating, not a lot to do ... very hard on the psyche,” Vanko said. “There's a lot of research showing that mental illness can develop when someone spends a lot of time in segregation — just no interactions. The few interactions that there may be is just with a corrections officer who's bringing your tray.” 

The Vera Institute argued for better conditions within segregation units as a way to prepare inmates to leave the restrictive housing unit and the prison itself. Prisons should focus on minimizing isolation, boredom and sensory deprivation, as well as providing positive socialization to ensure a healthy body and mind, report authors said.

“There will always be some people who may need to be separated from the general population of a prison or jail for safety reasons,” Vanko said. “But what Vera believes is that that separated environment doesn't have to look like solitary confinement. It doesn't have to mean a person's in their cell 23 hours a day and for the one hour they're out they’re put in restraints and they only go to a small yard … it should still provide programming. If the person has mental health needs, they should get an adequate mental health treatment, things like that.”

Researchers called for ensuring conditions in segregation match the general population’s as much as possible, including having more out-of-cell recreation, ensuring regular access to phone calls and visitors, and providing “meaningful programming and treatment.”

That’s not always happening now. Phone or visitation privileges were revoked on about 1,700 occasions in the first three quarters of 2017, even though one prison policy prohibits such a sanction unless an inmate committed an offense related to visitors.

“A great deal of research demonstrates the importance of communication and maintaining family engagement for both incarcerated people and their loved ones,” the report said. “Frequent and meaningful family visits can lead to better outcomes for incarcerated people, including fewer infractions while incarcerated and a lower risk for recidivism.” 

Although time out of a cell is a goal, staff interviewed as part of a focus group noted that many inmates in segregation turn down even the few opportunities to leave their cell. 

“This was confirmed by many incarcerated people, who cited reasons such as recreation taking place in small individual enclosures where there is not anything to do, and sometimes being offered recreation at inconvenient times (like at night),” researchers said.

Outdoor recreation opportunities for people in segregation should be held at reasonable times of the day and in places suitable for exercise, rather than small recreational enclosures currently being used, researchers said. To address bad weather, prisons should offer recreation time in a dayroom or in a special exercise cell.

Aside from the recreational opportunities, staff should seek out more opportunities for inmates to be productive when they are in their cells, such as increasing access to reading materials and activities through TV, MP3 players or tablets, researchers said. They also suggested consulting with incarcerated people, who might have their own ideas for activities within cells.

Inmates in the yard at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City on May 19, 2017. Photo by David Calvert

People in segregation for longer than they should be

Although the Vera Institute found that NDOC was reducing its use of “disciplinary segregation” — when someone is isolated from other inmates as punishment for bad behavior — there was a commensurate increase in “administrative segregation,” a category of isolation used for a variety of reasons including that the person is under investigation or considered a danger to others. 

The number of people ordered to disciplinary segregation in Nevada prisons fell from a high of 876 in the fourth quarter of 2017 to 554 in the third quarter of 2017, and the average length of the term in isolation fell from nearly six months in 2016 to just over two months in 2017. 

Meanwhile, the number of people in administrative segregation jumped from 822 to 966 from early to mid-2017.In all, there are nearly 14,000 inmates in the Nevada prisons and correctional camps.

The trend raises questions about whether staff send people into administrative segregation as an informal punishment.

“It is important to determine whether the increase in [administrative segregation] use may be an unintended consequence of the disciplinary reforms and subsequent decreased use of [disciplinary segregation] —whether, for example, some staff may unofficially be using AS in place of DS,” the report said.

Unlike the disciplinary version, administrative segregation offers no clear pathway out and there’s no limit on how long someone can be there. Staff at some prisons told Vera researchers that they knew of people who had been in administrative segregation for years.

The report also identified another shortcoming: that many people are placed in segregation that  is intended to precede a disciplinary hearing, but that hearing never happens or it takes a long time — 45 days or more — to wrap up.

On the back end, a shortage of beds in the general population can mean people who no longer need to be in segregation wait in segregation units for weeks or months before transferring out. 

“This increases NDOC’s segregation population and means numerous people are in restrictive housing conditions even though the department has determined that there is no reason for them to be there,” the report said.

Vera found that In the third quarter of 2017, the average woman who was leaving segregation had been there for 73 days, while the average man had been in segregation for between 18 to 46 days, depending on the institution.

Researchers recommended more frequent review of segregation placements and checkups on whether people should remain there or should be allowed to return to the general population.

People abruptly moved from segregation into the community

Vera researchers faulted the state for a process that abruptly returns inmates from segregation into the outside world. In the third quarter of 2017, more than 15 percent of people released from prison were either released directly from segregation or within 30 days of being there.

“This practice means that people are moved quickly from an extremely restrictive and isolating environment to a community environment that requires autonomy and complex social interactions, which adds difficulty to the already challenging process of reentering the community,” the report said.  

They said it’s “critical” to put safeguards in place that prevent such abrupt releases.

People with mental health issues remain in segregation

Although NDOC’s policy says people with serious mental illness should not be assigned to disciplinary segregation, incomplete records and a lack of detail about why people are in administrative segregation makes it difficult to tell whether staff are adhering to the policy.

The report found that a full 41 percent of people in segregation had some sort of mental health flag in their files, and a portion of those were classified as severely mentally ill.

Meanwhile, correctional officers — including those who work in mental health units — do not receive training in mental health beyond the standard pre-service training all officers receive, the report said.

Vera recommends mental health care training be offered to all officers.The need is particularly acute at the state’s sole women-only prison, Florence McClure Women’s Correctional Center, where nearly half of the inmates are said to have a mental health issue, and about 15 percent have a serious one.

“Staff and incarcerated people across multiple facilities also described a great need for mental health staff, mental health training for custody staff, and more available and meaningful mental health treatment and programming,” researchers said. 

Carson Adult High School graduation at Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City, Nev., on Wednesday, June 12, 2019. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

A better way?

Vera recommends segregation should only be used as a last resort to protect the safety of staff and other inmates, and that people in isolation should be held in the least restrictive environment for the shortest time possible.

Lower-level offenses, such as the very common offense of having contraband, refusing to participate in programming or trading and bartering, should never lead to segregation if they are non-violent, researchers said. Offenses like self-mutilation should not lead to discipline, but should lead to medical and mental health care.

Correctional officers should be trained to seek out alternative punishments, including verbal warnings and revocation of certain privileges, researchers said. Vera recommends training on crisis intervention, “motivational interviewing” and other practices that can de-escalate tense situations.

It can be a culture change for staff and take patience to try new techniques instead of relying on segregation to maintain order, Vanko said. But the changes can improve their working conditions.

“A lot of times once staff start to see that one, the sky's not falling, and two, maybe things are actually getting better — a lot of times then they do buy in and then talk to their coworkers and tell them about the great thing that's happening on their unit,” she said. “People aren't shouting and banging on the doors all the time. It's making their day less stressful, making their job less stressful.”

Welborn said she believes inexperience and inadequate training drives an overreliance on segregation in Nevada prisons as a tool to maintain order.

“They want to get people in and hired because they have a recruitment and retention problem,” she said. “They train people then they leave for higher paying county jobs. They rush those trainings.”

She also said understaffing contributes to the problem — but the solution is not just more staff, but reforms that could reduce the prison population overall.

The governor’s office said the state had made “tremendous strides” in reforming the state’s prison system since the end of the legislative session. Among other things, it pointed out that the state had applied for a Department of Justice criminal justice reform implementation grant to fund diversion programs, specialty courts and mental health treatment programs to redirect people destined for prison.

“The Office has been engaged in implementing [criminal justice reform bill] AB 236 by reconstituting the Nevada Sentencing Commission and creating the executive branch Department of Indigent Defense Services and the new Indigent Defense Board,” Gov. Steve Sisolak’s office said in a statement. “The Governor looks forward to continue building on this progress over the course of his first term.”

Meanwhile, the ACLU is continuing to push for both new changes and enforcement of existing law limiting solitary confinement — she said her organization has struggled to get public records that would show whether a 2017 law is being enforced. Their ultimate goal is the “Mandela rule,” in which solitary confinement is used no more than 15 days at a time.

They’ll be looking to someone who can carry on the mantle of Dzurenda, whose reformer record in New York and Connecticut gave them hope, Welborn said. Dzurenda departed last month and is set to work as a consultant helping North Las Vegas reopen its mothballed jail.

“We were disappointed with many decisions made under his leadership, such as the way the DOC handled execution protocol transparency and its failure to provide full access to medications for transgender inmates,” Welborn wrote. “But he valued human dignity and meaningfully advanced policies the ACLU of Nevada has been fighting to achieve, including solitary confinement reform. The Board of Prison Commissioners needs to appoint a Director who also respects human rights.”

Officials from the governor’s office said they are actively searching for a replacement.

“The ideal candidate will further the Governor’s vision of treatment, diversion, and personalized justice, suited to ensure that Nevada is safe and that those who commit crimes are treated effectively and rehabilitated appropriately, where possible,” said Sisolak spokesman Ryan McInerney.

Business, education meetings dominated Sisolak's calendar amid legislative session

Governor-elect Steve Sisolak and his wife, Kathy, tour the Governor's Mansion in Carson City

In retrospect, May 21 was one of the most important days of the 2019 Legislature.

A bill getting rid of a scheduled reduction in the state’s payroll tax was introduced for the first time; lawmakers voted out bills adding Nevada to the National Popular Vote Compact (later vetoed) and decriminalizing abortion; and long-awaited hearings were finally held on bills creating a cannabis regulatory agency and substantially overhauling the state’s K-12 education formula.

Gov. Steve Sisolak was similarly busy on May 21, but for different reasons. Amid a packed schedule that saw him attend a wildfire status briefing and the cannabis bill hearing, the governor was also busy on the second-to-last Tuesday before the end of the Legislature calling several high-profile business and gaming executives — Eldorado Resorts’ Gary Carano, Peppermill Resorts President Billy Paganetti and Ultimate Fighting Championship COO Ike Lawrence Epstein.

Described by his office as general check-ins, the scheduled calls were part of a slew of calls made by Sisolak as the legislative session drew to a close, indicating that the governor kept open lines of communication with top business leaders even as lawmakers approved bills raising the minimum wage and requiring large private employers to offer paid sick leave — panned as anti-business by Republicans. 

Those meetings and others held between Sisolak with high-powered lobbyists, legislators with major pending bills, federal government officials and a slew of well-known business leaders were revealed in a public records request submitted by The Nevada Independent for the governor’s calendar through the legislative session.

Meetings scheduled in Sisolak’s calendar don’t necessarily confirm that they actually happened, and often provide few details as to the point or reason for them. But information on the scheduled meetings of the state’s first Democratic governor in two decades provides insight into the power structure and important relationships that define and influence what laws and policies are (or aren’t) adopted.

“The calendar provided to The Nevada Independent is the Governor's working calendar, maintained by staff,” Sisolak spokesman Ryan McInerney said in an email. “Some of the calendared appointments occurred as scheduled, others did not occur at all, or were managed entirely by staff. Moreover, travel schedules for the Governor, First Lady Kathy Sisolak, and the Governor's family were redacted to ensure the safety of the Governor and his family.”

Although he positioned himself as a natural successor to popular and moderate Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval on the campaign trail, meetings scheduled by Sisolak throughout the legislative session included comparatively more meetings with labor leaders and other constituencies of the Democratic Party. They also reveal details about which individual interests were able to secure time with the governor ahead of major decisions on bills affecting energy, collective bargaining for state workers and health care issues.

But like Sandoval, many of Sisolak’s scheduled meetings show the names of the same Carson City power brokers, lobbyists and business leaders who continue to wield the same influence and effect on the legislative process, regardless of the party in power.

Not all details of Sisolak’s calendar were made public — at least 67 events on the calendar provided to The Nevada Independent were redacted. Sisolak’s office said that in addition to travel, the office also redacted telephone numbers and personnel information such as start and end dates.

Here’s a look at the people, groups and constituencies Sisolak met with during the 2019 legislative session.

Legislative interactions

Sisolak made an effort to meet with all 63 members of the Legislature during the first few weeks of the legislative session — a hectic schedule reflected in the early February weeks of his calendar.

But meetings held with lawmakers outside of those initial meet and greets shine a light on Sisolak’s involvement in the legislative process beyond just signing bills.

The lawmaker who scheduled the most meetings with Sisolak was Democratic Sen. Chris Brooks, who previously served one term in the Assembly and is married to Sisolak’s chief of staff, Michelle White.

Brooks and Sisolak met three times — once on March 13 (the day Sisolak announced the state would sign onto an agreement to follow the Paris Climate Agreement), again with legislative leaders on March 15 and a final meeting on April 2 (the day a hearing was held on SB358, which raises the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard to 50 percent by 2030). 

Brooks confirmed in an interview that the meetings were related to several bills related to energy that Sisolak had identified as priorities on both the campaign trail and in his State of the State address. He said early on that he and White had established a “firewall” and worked with other staff in the governor’s office to arrange meeting and discuss strategy.

“We were pretty adamant about making sure she wasn’t involved personally,” he said.

Other meetings held between Sisolak and individual lawmakers include:

  • A March 27 meeting with Republican Assembly Leader Jim Wheeler and Blockchains CEO Jeff Berns, described by the governor’s office as a meet and greet that veered into a discussion of issues with wild horses
  • An April 30 meeting with Democratic Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez Thompson, related to her bill AB400, which removed certain types of taxes from possible economic abatements. The bill was signed into law by Sisolak.
  • A May 17 meeting with Assembly Judiciary Chair Steve Yeager on AB553, the bill creating the Cannabis Compliance Board. Yeager presented the bill in committee about a week later; it was later signed into law by Sisolak.
  • A May 22 meeting with Senator Julia Ratti on her dental therapy bill, SB366. The bill was amended twice after the meeting and eventually signed into law by Sisolak.

Lobbyists

Sisolak’s meetings with lawmakers merely tap the surface of his involvement in the legislative process; the Democratic governor met with dozens of lobbyists or representatives for various interests groups throughout the entire 120-day session.

Notably, Sisolak recorded holding a short meeting with National Shooting Sports Foundation executive Larry Keane and the group’s state lobbyist, Patrick McNaught, on April 18. 

The meeting came nearly a week before lawmakers approved major changes to a major gun safety bill by Democratic Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui, AB291, that initially sought to allow local governments to pass more restrictive gun laws than those put in place by the state (a concept called pre-emption).

But the concerns of the NSSF, which holds the annual SHOT tradeshow in Las Vegas, helped almost sink the bill, and contributed to the removal of that language from the bill. Lawmakers instead added in provisions creating a “red flag” law process, which lets law enforcement and family members petition a court to temporarily seize a person’s firearms if they present a danger to themselves or others.

The NSSF itself issued several warnings about Sisolak in the run-up to the 2018 election, noting that he had promised to institute a long-stalled voter-approved gun background check initiative and to ban assault weapons. NSSF spokesman Mark Olivia said that the meeting was similar to ones the group had across the country and in Washington D.C. with other elected officials, and that the organization was grateful that Sisolak took the time to listen to their concerns.

“This is what any trade association is going to do to make sure their concerns are heard,” he said.

Other major lobbyists that Sisolak met with during the legislative session include:

  • Former Assembly Speaker turned lobbyist Richard Perkins and clients on February 19 in Las Vegas
  • Former state senator, current lobbyist Warren Hardy on February 19
  • A meet and greet with the Jewish Federation and former Rep. Shelley Berkley on March 5. Both supported a bill, AB257, that would have authorized creation of a Holocaust memorial museum in Nevada; the bill failed to pass
  • Former Rep. Dr. Joe Heck on March 8
  • Dwayne McClinton on behalf of Southwest Gas on March 19
  • Golden Entertainment, Dollar Loan Center and Republic Services lobbyist Sean Higgins on March 27
  • Barrick Gold Corporation executives Christina Erling and Rebecca Darling on April 17
  • Kolesar and Leatham lobbyist Joe Brown on May 6
  • Nevada’s Women Lobby lobbyist Marlene Lockard on May 15
  • Griffin Company lobbyist Josh Griffin (and “group”) on May 20 
  • Las Vegas Metro Chamber CEO Mary Beth Sewald on May 23, to discuss “legislation relating to Nevada employers,” a spokesperson for the Chamber said
  • Ferraro Group founder Greg Ferraro and former Fennemore Craig lobbyist Jim Wadhams on May 29, in a meeting regarding pending bills and the close of the legislative session. Wadhams also met with Sisolak on April 1.

Greg Smith

Within hours after Democratic Assemblyman Mike Sprinkle announced he was resigning from the state Legislature over multiple claims of sexual harassment, Gov. Steve Sisolak was already meeting with his eventual successor — though the governor’s office claims it was just a coincidence.

While reporters scurried and stalked the legislative building in attempts to find Sprinkle or get comments from other lawmakers on his resignation, Sisolak had scheduled a meeting with Greg Smith — the husband of former Democratic state Sen. Debbie Smith. The meeting on March 14 came two weeks before his appointment to the Assembly and over a 15-person field of candidates who filed to replace Sprinkle. 

But Sisolak’s office said the meeting was just a coincidence; Smith was brought in to advise the office on several pending bills related to apprenticeship programs (Smith is a retired union apprenticeship program administrator.) Smith did not return several calls seeking comment on the meeting.

Education

On the campaign trail, few organizations were more helpful to Sisolak than the Clark County Education Association, which endorsed the future governor early in the campaign and spent more than a million dollars in third-party campaign ads ahead of the 2018 election.

Once in office, Sisolak’s door was open to the teacher’s union and its polarizing leader, John Vellardita. The governor and Vellardita met or called at least twice (once on March 14 and again on April 8), and held a meet and greet with CCEA educators on April. In contrast, the Nevada State Education Association (which endorsed Sisolak’s primary opponent) held a scheduled meeting with Sisolak just once, on March 19. 

And in a legislative session defined by massive shifts to the state’s antiquated funding formula and calls for more funding, Sisolak also met with various school district and higher education leaders. He met with Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara twice (once on March 4 and again on March 26), Washoe County School District lobbyist Lindsay Anderson on April 4, Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Thom Reilly on February 27, and UNLV President Marta Meana on April 24.

Sisolak also met with State Board of Education chair Elaine Wynn on May 21, the same day as the first legislative hearing on the revamped K-12 education formula.

Business interests

Calls to major business and gambling company executives took up a sizable amount of Sisolak’s time, especially as the legislative session drew to a close.

Sisolak’s calendars show meetings with Anthony Marnell (CEO of Marnell Gaming, which operates the Sparks Nugget) on April 10, Golden Gaming CEO Blake Sartini on April 21 and Grand Sierra Resort and SLS Las Vegas owner Alex Muerelo on May 9. One of his last calls made before the legislative session ended on May 27 was to Virginia Valentine, the director of powerful casino trade group the Nevada Resorts Association. Valentine said the call was to relay the gaming industry’s support for AB533, the bill to create the Cannabis Compliance Board.

Other notable meetings or calls arranged between business executives and Sisolak include:

  • Eli Lilly executives on February 12
  • Beau Wrigley, the heir to the Wrigley chewing gum fortune and CEO of Suterra Wellness (a cannabis company that operates in Nevada and other states) on April 1
  • Fidelity National Financial executive Peter Sadowski on April 10. Fidelity is owned by Bill Foley, the owner of the Golden Knights hockey team.
  • Former Nevada Cattlemen's Association president Joe Guild and lobbyist Richard Perkins on April 23. Both lobbied for Union Pacific Railroad
  • Kaempfer Crowell attorney Jennifer Lazovich on April 26

2020 Candidates

At least four of the Democratic presidential candidates met with or calling Sisolak during the legislative session, including billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro. Sisolak’s office also said he met with California Sen. Kamala Harris during her trip to Nevada, and that all candidate visits were accommodated based on the governor’s schedule and availability.

He also met with former New York City Mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg — who considered but ultimately decided against a presidential run — on February 26, after state lawmakers approved a bill implementing a long-stalled gun background check law. Bloomberg helped fund the group that backed the initial ballot question in the 2016 election.

Sisolak said during an AFSCME forum earlier this month that he wasn’t sure whether he would endorse any candidate before the state’s presidential caucus in February.

Federal government

Unlike his predecessor Sandoval, who in the 2017 legislative session scheduled calls or meetings with at least 17 Cabinet secretaries and other high ranking officials in Trump administration, Sisolak made relatively few calls to officials in the Trump administration during his first legislative session.

Sisolak arranged a call with former Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt on Feb. 5, and another call with former Labor Secretary Alex Acosta on March 28, the same day Nevada joined a group of states intervening in a lawsuit defending the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.

Sisolak also scheduled a call with Delaware Sen. Tom Carper on April 30, the same day he sent a publicized open letter to Carper and Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso to reiterate the state’s “strong opposition to the Yucca Mountain project” (Barrasso and Carper serve on the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works).

Grants management lawsuit

Sisolak’s office also scheduled a meeting entitled “Streamlink Discussion” on April 15, a day after The Nevada Independent published a story detailing how litigation brought by Streamlink had gummed up a grants management software contract that state officials believed could help tap into millions of dollars worth of federal grants.

Although the state took no immediate action after the story was published, Carson City District Court Judge James Russell ruled against the state and in favor of Streamlink in May, leading the Department of Administration to announce it would drop future appeals and re-open bidding on the grants management software contract. 

The contract was reopened in July, and the office expects to have the system fully functional by 2021.

Celebrities

Sisolak’s calendar also shows meetings with higher-profile individuals than the normal slew of Carson City insiders.

The governor scheduled a meet and greet meeting with actress Patricia Arquette on March 8, the same day the actress attended a press conference with Democratic lawmakers on several equal pay bills. Sisolak’s office said the meeting was indeed scheduled but never actually happened.

On May 15, he scheduled a meeting with former football star Boomer Esiason on the topic of cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease that Esiason has highlighted through creation of a foundation after his son was diagnosed with the disease.

Sisolak also met with legendary labor organizer Dolores Huerta on April 3, and presented her with a proclamation. Huerta came to Carson City to testify in favor of a bill that would allow for physician-assisted aid-in-dying. The bill, SB165, failed to advance out of the Legislature.

Snyder Production 6.24.19 by Riley Snyder on Scribd

Nevada correctional officers file to collectively bargain, first group of state workers to do so after 2019 law

Shari Kassebaum, a correctional sergeant employed by the state, makes a statement before filing for recognition as AFSCME with the Government Employee Management Relations Board in Las Vegas

State workers employed at correctional facilities have become the first group of state employees to file for recognition as a collective bargaining unit under a 2019 state law that will allow up to 20,000 workers to collectively bargain for wages and other employee benefits.

Correctional officers plan to announce filing for recognition as a unit of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union on Friday with the state’s Government Employee-Management Relations Board, just two months after Gov. Steve Sisolak signed legislation giving state employees the right to collectively bargain. 

Filing for recognition is just the first step in the process of allowing state workers to collectively bargain — a decades long-effort by organized labor groups and allies that could have major effects on both the state budget and the livelihood of tens of thousands of state workers. According to the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, state government workers in Nevada are paid less than their private-sector counterparts when adjusted for educational attainment. 

Shari Kassebaum, a correctional sergeant with the state and president of the new bargaining unit, said she was convinced that the move toward collective bargaining would improve retention and morale among state correctional officers. 

“It’s going to be able to set the standards that we haven’t been able to have, and it’s going to hold accountability to the administration that we haven’t had before,” she said. 

Under the legislation, which was revived and passed out on party-lines in the final few days of the legislative session, up to 11 separate bargaining units of different classes of state employees are allowed to form unions and negotiate with the state for salary and other specified benefits beginning in 2021. Those employee units include:

  • Labor, maintenance, custodial and institutional employees, including correctional institution employees who are not responsible for security at those institutions
  • Administrative and clerical employees, including legal support staff and employees whose work involves general office work, or keeping or examining records and accounts
  • Technical aides to professional employees, including, computer programmers, tax examiners, conservation employees and regulatory inspectors
  • Professional employees who do not provide health care including engineers, scientists and accountants
  • Professional employees who provide health care, including physical therapists and other employees in medical and other health-related professions
  • Employees, other than professional employees, who provide health care and personal care, including employees who provide care for children
  • Category I peace officers, which includes most police officers
  • Category II peace officers, which includes officers who work for community colleges, schools, courtrooms and some state agencies
  • Category III peace officers, which typically includes prison and correctional guards
  • Supervisory employees not otherwise included in other three bargaining units.
  • Firefighters

Notably, a last-minute amendment adopted into the law gives the governor the ability to essentially disregard the negotiated salary increases in the state budget if it is deemed “appropriate.”

Kassebaum said she wasn’t necessarily concerned about that provision, and wanted to focus first on organizing and showing the governor that state-employed correctional officers often made less than their law enforcement counterparts in the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and other police agencies.

“Hopefully, in the future, he’s willing to negotiate,” she said. “I’m not worried about right now.”

Shari Kassebaum, a corrections sergeant, holds an officially filed application for recognition as AFSCME with the Government Employee Management Relations Board in Las Vegas on Friday, Aug. 23, 2019. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

State employees who collectively bargain will also not have the power to negotiate over health insurance; that remains the purview of the Public Employees Benefits Program (PEBP). The state is not required to abide by union contracts on PERS retirement contributions or things such as mandatory staffing ratios.

Passage of the bill was a major win for organized labor in Nevada — lawmakers had regularly filed bills to extend collective bargaining rights to state workers since the 1970s, but had regularly been defeated outside of two bills approved by the Legislature but vetoed by the governor in 1991 and 2009.

But the tides changed Sisolak — boosted in his 2018 campaign by more than $3.7 million in spending from an AFSCME political action committee — who promised to extend collective bargaining rights to state workers on the campaign trail and after the election.

According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percentage of Nevada workers represented by a union has slightly dipped over the last ten years (from 18.2 percent in 2008 to 15.7 percent in 2018), but still remains above the national average.

2020 candidates to attend AFSCME forum on public service in Las Vegas

The front of the White House. Public domain image.

About 800,000 workers found themselves thrust into economic uncertainty at the end of 2018, when politicians in Washington couldn't come to an agreement on funding legislation to keep the federal government running.

Some people kept working, while others were furloughed. All of them, however, wouldn't get paid until the government reopened. The partial government shutdown ended up lasting 35 days, the longest closure in history and the second one during Donald Trump's presidency.

At every level of government, public workers increasingly find themselves at the mercy of politicians using them as political footballs. In many places, they face threats to their pay and benefits, and a crackdown on efforts to unionize, even as they're expected to keep the country's infrastructure running so that everyone else — including massive corporations rewarded with tax cuts and other handouts — can succeed.

In other spots, however, there seems to be a growing willingness by politicians to embrace unions and the role of government. In June, the governor of Nevada signed a law giving state workers collective bargaining rights, the largest statewide expansion in 16 years. And the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates are openly showing their support for unions and backing worker actions.

On Aug. 3, just days after the second round of debates, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) will host the 2020 Public Service Forum in Las Vegas.

At least 15 Democrats running for their party's 2020 nomination will be attending, including Sen. Cory Booker, former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, Mayor Bill de Blasio, former Rep. John Delaney, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Sen. Kamala Harris, Gov. Jay Inslee, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Rep. Seth Moulton, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Rep. Tim Ryan, Sen. Bernie Sanders, business leader and philanthropist Tom Steyer, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and author Marianne Williamson.

Amanda Terkel, the Washington Bureau Chief of Huffington Post, and I will be pressing the candidates on their plans to strengthen protections for working people and the position that unions occupy. We also want to hear specifics from candidates on how they intend to get their ambitious agendas through what could be a divided Congress, and their views on the role of government in people's lives.

The candidates will also take questions directly from AFSCME members in attendance and watching the livestream, which will be running on HuffPost.

This blog post has been cross-posted at Huffington Post. The event will not be open to the public because of limited seating space. The livestream of the event — from 9 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. and 12:45 p.m. to 3:15 p.m. — will appear here: https://www.huffpost.com/