Not all Nevada casino operators are on board with changes to ‘Right to Return’ legislation

A division has emerged among Nevada Resort Association members over revisions to legislation that would allow laid-off gaming and tourism workers to return to their jobs. One company vows to oppose the modified bill and even seek a veto from Gov. Steve Sisolak.

In an email sent Wednesday morning to the casino industry trade groups representatives, South Point Casino-Hotel attorney Barry Lieberman said many of the changes in SB386 – referred to as “Right to Return” legislation – were “particularly onerous for non-union smaller nonrestricted licensees.”

Lieberman, a long time Nevada gaming attorney and a close adviser to South Point owner Michael Gaughan, voiced concern over several sections of the revised legislation that was passed out of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee Tuesday evening in a split vote. A deal on the bill was reportedly reached between gaming industry representatives and negotiators for Culinary Workers Union Local 226 with less than a week left before the end of the state's 120-day legislative session.

“We voted to oppose SB386 and seek a veto of the bill by the Governor if the bill passed the Senate and the Assembly,” Lieberman wrote.

Lawmakers voted along party lines, 12-9, in the Senate early Wednesday evening, less than 24 hours after the measure passed out of committee. The changes in the bill are apparently backed by some of the casino industry's largest companies, including MGM Resorts International, Wynn Resorts and Caesars Entertainment — Nevada Resort Association lobbyist Bob Ostrovsky told lawmakers on Tuesday that the association “officially on a majority position is neutral, and we will not support the bill and we will not work against the bill as an association, we are neutral.”

In an interview, Lieberman said the legislation treats “non-union resorts in the same manner” as properties with collective bargaining agreements. Representatives from other casino companies declined comment.

Lieberman termed several amendments to SB368 as “a confusing patchwork of vague, burdensome and non-helpful requirements.” He said the changes force employers “to guess at their peril as to what the bill actually requires them to do.”

He suggested the changes to the bill “impairs” an employer’s right to rehire casino workers who have “superior skills” as opposed to other laid-off workers.

Lieberman said the Nevada legislation’s passage will actually “discourage employers from hiring new employees.” Under the legislation, properties cannot hire a new employee for a position until all the provisions for full-time and part time employees “have been satisfied.”

Four sections in the legislation fail “to draw any distinctions between on-call, part time or full-time employees,” the attorney wrote in analyzing the 20-page document. The new language, Lieberman said, is “ambiguous” in describing the timelines for laid off workers and could be viewed as more favorable to part time employees as opposed to full-time employees.

The section requiring businesses to notify laid-off workers of layoffs “makes no sense.”

In the email, Lieberman said a decision was made by a majority of members of the Resort Association’s executive committee to remain neutral “in exchange for negotiating out of SB386 some of the more onerous provisions.” He said the decision was opposed by South Point.

The Culinary Union, which represents some 60,000 non-gaming workers in Nevada’s hotel-casino industry, has said just 50 percent of the workforce has been hired back since gaming reopened following a 78-day shutdown last year. Labor organization officials said SB386 is needed to ensure its members are able to return to their previous jobs.

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Rusty McAllister, in a statement, called the legislation a “common-sense measure that is urgently needed to create stability in Nevada’s workforce.”

As part of the agreement between the casinos and the union, revisions will be made to SB4, a bill from the 2020 special session last summer that includes government-imposed health and safety standards meant to prevent the spread of COVID-19, as well as expanded liability protections for major casino resorts. The amendment relaxes requirements on cleaning, such as cleaning minibars, headboards and decorative items on beds, and changes directives to clean throughout the day to instead call for cleaning daily.

Bill sponsor and Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) credited the Culinary Union, Nevada Resort Association and the governor’s office for working together to arrive at a consensus on the high-profile legislation.

SB386 would allow workers in the gaming and travel sectors a right to return to their jobs. The bill covers those workers laid off after March 12, 2020 and who were employed for at least six months in the year prior to the governor’s first COVID-19 emergency declaration.

The legislation is similar to at least a half-dozen other bills backed by the labor organization in other states. California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, signed legislation last month that requires hospitality and service industry employers to offer new positions to laid off workers. 

This story was updated on May 26 at 8:18 p.m. to reflect that the bill passed out of the Senate.

Lawmakers consider proposal to suspend business licenses over unpaid debt

Lawmakers frustrated with the state’s slow collection of unpaid debt want to start suspending business licenses of entities that owe money to the state.

The bill to do that, AB482, was heard in the Assembly Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday and would require the secretary of state’s office to not renew a business licenses if they are informed by the state controller’s office that the business in question has an outstanding debt owed to a state agency that is currently in collections with the controller’s office. 

It’s intended to capture fees and fines most commonly related to OSHA violations or worker’s compensation premiums, but would include any kind of debt to the state that’s been referred to the controller’s office.

“We don't want to necessarily put people out of business,” Assembly Ways and Means Chair Maggie Carlton said during the hearing. “We just want them to fulfill their responsibility in paying their fines.”

But there was one small problem — the agency charged with enforcing provisions of the bill, the secretary of state’s office, said the bill had come as a “surprise” and the office still had outstanding questions about how the legislation would work.

Deputy Secretary of State for Commercial Recordings Kim Perondi told the committee that the office had liability concerns about potentially suspending a business license as opposed to placing a business on an administrative hold, or if it could lead to corporations being unable to operate because of a single individual’s debt owed to the state.

“While overall the secretary absolutely supports the concept of preventing debt write off and preventing those owing money to the state from continuing to profit from state contracts and such, we will be testifying in neutral on this bill because of the way it's drafted,” she said.

Perondi said the office would continue to work with supporters on the bill, who said it would add more teeth to existing state law on debt collection.

Rusty McAllister, head of the Nevada State AFL-CIO and appointed member of the state’s Industrial Relations Division advisory board, said the legislation came from a general frustration between the division and state Controller’s Office (which handles debt collection) over businesses opting to refuse to pay or decline to pay any fines or fees owed as workers’ compensation premiums and OSHA violations.

McAllister said the division currently has more than $20 million in uncollected fees and fines, and regularly shifts off accumulated debt as “uncollectible” even as businesses continue to operate in the state. He said most fines are within the $500 to $1,000 range, but some continue to accrue to the tens of thousands of dollars range.

“Every time that we're asked to write off this debt and send it to the Board of Examiners as a write-off, this is money that the state could use,” he said. “And at the same time, we're tired of seeing these businesses stay in business, doing business here in the state with no ramifications.

Editor’s Note: This story first appeared in Behind the Bar, The Nevada Independent’s newsletter dedicated to comprehensive coverage of the 2021 Legislature. Sign up for the newsletter here.

'Right to Return' bill would guarantee laid-off hospitality employees the opportunity to return to their old jobs

After the pandemic brought thousands of layoffs to Nevada’s hospitality industry and devastated the state’s economy, lawmakers are considering a “Right to Return” bill that would give casino, hospitality, stadium and travel-related workers in Nevada the right to return to their former jobs.

The bill, SB386, garnered emotional support testimony Wednesday from laid-off workers looking to return to work and the backing of labor unions, while businesses, including some Las Vegas casinos, opposed the measure, arguing that it would result in inappropriate costs and litigation.

“I should not be replaced or abandoned. I have spent my life working for this company. I should not have to start my career over,” Mario Sandoval, a food worker and Culinary Union member of 39 years who lost his job amid the pandemic, said during a hearing for the bill. “I could have hope if I was guaranteed my job back, something that company has taken away from us.”

With events canceled, travel restrictions in effect and casinos shut down for several weeks during the pandemic, the hospitality industry was forced to scale back immensely over the past year. Data from the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation shows that from March to May last year, the state’s hospitality industry lost nearly 200,000 jobs.

Sandoval’s sentiment was echoed by other hospitality workers, including Cristina Lopez, who was laid off in May at her job at Station Casinos’ Texas Station after 10 years with the company.

“This crisis is not our fault. It took us all by surprise,” Lopez said. “I have applied at 15 different jobs, but I am told that I am overqualified to work at fast-food restaurants or that I don’t have enough experience for another job. The only hope I have is for my job to come back to the way it was.”

The bill applies to workers in the casino, hospitality, stadium and travel-related economic sectors who were laid off after March 12, 2020 and who were employed for at least six months in the year prior to the governor’s first COVID-19 emergency declaration.

Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) presented the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee bill, invoking her own parents, who were members of the Culinary Union.

“Growing up, I was the very proud daughter of a waitress and a bartender, both of whom are members of Culinary Union 226,” she said during the hearing. “Because I grew up in a family who relied on exactly the type of jobs that have been so hard hit by this pandemic, I can only imagine what these workers and their families have been through the past year.”

The bill would require employers to offer a laid-off employee each job that the employee is qualified for (e.g. someone who conducted cleaning work for a business could be eligible for other jobs associated with maintaining COVID-19 health and safety protocols). Employers also would be required to give employees who are not hired back an explanation of why they were not offered a job within 30 days of the decision.

During the bill presentation, Cannizzaro was joined by D. Taylor, president of UNITE HERE, a hospitality labor union with more than 300,000 members and the parent to the Las Vegas culinary union. Taylor argued that bringing back already-trained workers would benefit the recovering economy.

“This is good for the economy and businesses. This legislation provides for already-trained and experienced staff — a staff that was praised a year ago by the same companies,” Taylor said. “To get back to work immediately, there's no retraining necessary. They're ready day one.”

However, some senators expressed a concern that businesses would not be able to hire back all of their laid-off employees given the ongoing economic struggles related to the pandemic.

“The reopening is certainly uneven, and it's slow. And so my concern is, if an employer were to say, you know, they laid off 1,000 people… The employer is likely not to hire every employee that they laid off on the same day,” said Sen. Keith Pickard (R-Henderson). “Now they're going to have to face a court to justify why they laid off a certain person.”

Opponents of the bill — including the Las Vegas Chamber, Henderson Chamber of Commerce, Reno Sparks Chamber of Commerce, Southwest Airlines, Boyd Gaming Corporation and Caesars Entertainment — argued that one provision of the bill would invite unnecessary litigation, as the legislation would allow employees to bring a civil action against employers that fail to comply with the bill requirements.

“Why diminish the entrepreneurial spirit and fail to recognize what it has taken to weather through this pandemic?” Ann Silver, CEO for the Reno Sparks Chamber of Commerce, said during the hearing. “There are federal and state laws to protect against discrimination and unfair labor practices. And there was enough work for lawyers. Let's not create new legislation that begs for litigation and class action lawsuits.”

Paul More, a Las Vegas-based labor lawyer, explained that employers would be able to defend themselves from civil lawsuits, if there was a legitimate business reason for not being able to bring an employee back to work.

Opponents of the bill also pointed to benefits that already were offered to employees through the pandemic and noted ongoing efforts to bring workers back.

“During the height of the pandemic, we initially continued full pay for all team members including tip income for the greater portion of the time our properties were closed,” said Erin Midby, vice president of government affairs for Boyd Gaming. “Since the shutdown, Boyd Gaming has brought more than 6,000 team members back to work and are continually bringing more back.”

Many of the labor unions supporting the “Right to Return” measure, including the Culinary Union, AFL-CIO and United Food and Commercial Workers Union, called it a “common sense” solution and said it was time to bring people back to work.

“Let's pass this bill and let's give people back work,” Rusty McAllister, secretary-treasurer for the AFL-CIO, said during the hearing. “This is not a complex issue. Just hire the people back that were laid off through no fault of their own.”

Wednesday’s meeting marked the first hearing for the bill. The committee did not vote on the measure.

Presidential hopefuls cite labor in opposition to Medicare for all, but what do Nevada’s unions want?

Union member stands holding flag

The Culinary Health Center lies within an unremarkable building on an unremarkable block in East Las Vegas.

But the clinic’s beige exterior belies its well-appointed interior — a granite, concierge-style reception desk where patients are greeted, tiled columns, wood paneled ceilings, modern globe light fixtures and wall decorations shimmering with gold-colored threads. If Culinary workers spend their days laboring in some of the most glitzy casinos on the Las Vegas Strip, their union wanted them to have an equally as pleasant aesthetic experience while receiving their health care, union officials have said.

Patients can show up to the center’s urgent care at any hour on any day of the week to get treatment. If it’s a more complicated case, labs and radiology — including CT scans — can be performed on site. If they have a tooth or eye issue, the dental and vision departments on site can be called for a consult. Patients can be set up for a follow up appointment upstairs in the primary care department. Any medicines they may need are provided free of charge just down the hall in the pharmacy where the wait time is an average of nine minutes. The goal was for the urgent care to see 30 patients a day. It sees 200.

For Culinary Union members, the 60,000-square-foot health clinic serves as a physical reminder of the health plan they have fought for since the 1960s. Roughly 130,000 workers and their family members receive health insurance coverage under the Culinary Health Fund, a multiemployer benefit trust fund also sometimes called a Taft-Hartley fund. The way it works is that employers of Culinary Union members pay money into the fund for each hour worked, which is then used to pay for health care for union members and their families. Employer contributions to the trust fund are negotiated through the collective bargaining process, and the fund itself is administered by a board of trustees with equal employer and union representation.

“We went through a lot of struggle to get health care for families, and a lot of sacrifice too,” said Geoconda Arguello-Kline, the Culinary Union’s secretary-treasurer, pointing to the union’s 67-day citywide strike in 1984 in which employer contributions to the health trust was a central issue.

Health care is often named as the top issue for voters heading into the 2020 presidential election and, particularly, Democratic voters. Democratic presidential hopefuls have been eager to stake their claim on the issue, from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who support a single-payer Medicare for all system, to Vice President Joe Biden, who favors expanding the Affordable Care Act and creating a public option plan that Americans can buy into.

The union health plan, Arguello-Kline said, is working for Culinary members. But that isn’t true for many Americans nationwide. A Kaiser Family Foundation/Los Angeles Times poll earlier this year that found while most Americans covered under traditional employer-sponsored plans are largely satisfied with their coverage, about 40 percent reported health-related financial difficulties in the prior 12 months, including paying their medical bills and affording the deductibles, copays and coinsurance required by their plans.

In this debate over health care reform, unions have become a central focus. At a labor forum in Las Vegas earlier this summer, Sanders touted that Medicare for all would take the health care conversation away from the negotiating table and allow workers to purely focus on negotiating for better wages, and Warren suggested that there would be some mechanism by which to ensure that unions get “fully compensated for what they have negotiated for” — meaning finding some way to ensure unions don’t lose out on potentially decades of wage concessions they’ve made for more robust health plans.

But at that forum they were, by far, in the minority of Democratic hopefuls, many of whom have used the unions as a cudgel against Medicare for all.

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who has slowly been climbing into frontrunner territory in the polls, has specifically mentioned the Culinary Union in making his pitch for his “Medicare for all who want it” plan, which is essentially a public option where people could buy into the government-run Medicare plan.

“If you like your private plan — I’m thinking for example about the Culinary workers who have negotiated and fought year after year for a good plan and earned it and it’s part of your compensation — I’m not going to make you give it up,” Buttigieg said at a rally in East Las Vegas on Tuesday. “We’ll let you decide whether the plan we create is better or not.”

Those who have been far less publicly vocal about their feelings about Medicare for all are the unions themselves on the ground here in Nevada. Of the more than a dozen union leaders contacted by The Nevada Independent, most expressed significant concerns about the possibility of their hard-fought health care plans going away under Medicare for all, while a smaller minority voiced support or openness toward a single-payer system.

Where there was more agreement is in how the unions are being used in the Medicare for all debate.

“One of the things that we’ve been very careful about is we don’t want candidates trying to use this union health care versus non-union health care as a wedge issue for our members because that doesn’t do anybody any good,” said Rusty McAllister, executive secretary-treasurer of the Nevada State AFL-CIO. “You can’t come out with a position that ‘unions don’t support this’ because you can’t speak for all the unions.”

Employees at the front desk of a health clinic
Employees work at the front desk of the Culinary Health Center in East Las Vegas on Thursday, Oct. 18, 2019 (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

Pros and cons

Unions here are generally in agreement that everyone should have access to health care. Where they disagree is what that should look like.

One primary concern unions have about Medicare for all is that establishing a single-payer, government-run health care system will wipe out years of work at the negotiating table. Every dollar unions have asked employers to put into their health trust funds is a dollar that could have gone toward wage increases. The question is what happens to that money when it is no longer needed to pay for health care: Do the employers pocket it, or does it flow to worker paychecks?

“Medicare for all comes along, what does — in our case the contractor who we work for — and the union, how do they sit down and have a conversation about what to do with that money?” said William Stanley, executive secretary-treasurer of the Southern Nevada Building Trades. “There’s $10 or $15 an hour going to a trust fund for health care that’s no longer required because there’s Medicare for all. How does that contribution get divided? How is there a decision made, or are you just going to let the employer and the union fight it out and whoever is in the position of power wins and somebody walks from the table mad?”

Most of the building trades unions secured their health care provisions back in the 1960s and 1970s, Stanley said, which means that there have been six decades of making concessions at the negotiating table to get those health care benefits.

“How do you now go back and divide up those contributions?” Stanley said. “It’s a mess.”

But proponents argue that removing the health care conversation from the bargaining table would allow them to focus on other issues such as better wages and safer working conditions.

“Every time workers are going to the bargaining table, the employers are constantly trying to figure out how to put more and more cost on employees, and the insurance companies are trying to get more out of the employers. For us, they’re trying to figure out how to pass that along to the employee,” said Brian Shepherd, chief of staff for SEIU Local 1107. “Taking that off the table means we could focus on safer staffing levels, caseloads, better working conditions, which is what our members want to negotiate over.”

The union, which represents health care workers at major hospitals across the state as well as county employees, has gone so far as to explicitly endorse the mission of fighting for health care for all in its local constitution and bylaws.

“We are advocates for health care for every single person,” Shepherd said. “Now, I think where I think there are some differences is how do you get that done. If everybody has to have health care, we’re not just talking about insurance, we’re talking about actual health care.”

One primary difference between SEIU and other unions in Nevada wary of Medicare for all is that SEIU members here have employer-sponsored coverage, with the union bargaining for how much of the cost employees should pay and any changes in coverage, instead of running its own nonprofit health plan or, like the Culinary Union, a health clinic.

The Laborers Local 872, which represents construction workers in Las Vegas, has run its own clinic for more than a decade.

“Our clinic does fantastic for us. No copayments, there’s no out of pocket money, it’s free for our members and their spouses and their children,” said Tommy White, secretary-treasurer and business manager for the union. “It’s saved our health plan a ton of money and it isn’t that expensive. The cost of building the clinic and having it there for our members was a lot cheaper than having our members go to the emergency room or wait a month to see a doctor.”

Running a clinic has also given the union significant control over the health of its members in a way that it wouldn’t if its members were covered under an off-the-shelf private plan or a government plan. White said that after his brother-in-law overdosed on Christmas Day 2005, he got serious about cracking down on opioid prescribing — years before it was identified as a national epidemic.

“I started monitoring doctors. When I found doctors that were overprescribing members, we threw them out of our plan. No one wants to be proactive that way,” White said. “I had to take some heat from my members — ‘What did you do? He was a good doctor. He took care of my mom.’ He might have been doing the right thing for your mother, but he was doing the wrong thing for your sister or for somebody else’s family member.”

It comes as no surprise, then, that the Laborers are staunchly opposed to Medicare for all.

“We’re against it, and if there’s a candidate that’s going to come in and start saying, ‘We’re going to push Medicare for all,’ we’re not going to endorse them,” White said. “I speak it the way it is. I might get my ass in a jam every once in awhile for doing that, but I’ve got to protect what my members want. We’re more than willing to put in our fair share to help people, but we don’t want people telling us how much our deductible is going to be, our copayment is going to be, what we can prescribe.”

That’s another key issue for many unions that run their own health plans. A Medicare for all plan likely won’t cover some of the specialized, industry-specific benefits they have included in their plans. For the building trades, that might be more extensive chiropractic and orthopedic coverage. For police and fire, better mental health coverage to help with post-traumatic stress disorders. For the laborers, acupuncture and lasik surgery.

“It was cheaper to do lasik than it was to issue glasses every year or two years,” White said. “Medicare isn’t going to cover lasik.”

Union member speaks at forum
An AFSCME union member asks a question at a Democratic presidential candidate forum at UNLV on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. (HuffPost/Courtesy)

A cautionary tale

But not all self-funded plans come the same.

Teachers in Clark County are covered under the Teachers Health Trust, a teacher-run nonprofit health plan beset by problems in recent years. With the school district hit hard by the recession and stagnating premium contributions, the trust slashed benefits from its once robust health plan in 2014 and shifted costs toward employees. That gave way to complaints from teachers about insurance hassles and even a class-action lawsuit against the trust.

In 2018, an arbitrator sided with Clark County School District teachers in a contract standoff with the district, requiring the district to increase its contributions to the health trust per teacher from about $538 to $583 a month.

John Vellardita, the executive director of the Clark County Education Association, said that the trust is “on the road to recovery” now with the increased contributions, but the plan is no longer what it once was. He blames, in part, the skyrocketing costs of health care.

“To the extent that the economy is good and your employer has that kind of money where you can bargain those increases, then it’s going to be great,” Vellardita said. “But the risk, the exposure you have is when there is a downturn in the economy and the employer is facing financial difficulties in that economy, it’s going to impact what goes on at the table. The table does not control health care costs. The market controls health care costs.”

Vellardita acknowledged the concerns that other unions voiced on Medicare for all — that their health plans are built on years of collective bargaining and that having purview over their plans lets them tailor benefits to their members’ needs — but he said that conversation can’t be separated from the economic realities that shape the deals hashed out at the bargaining table.

“The assumption built into that argument is that somehow health care can, in this day and age, be divorced from any kind of economic impact when you’re bargaining with your employer and I don’t see how that exists,” Vellardita said.

He’s also pragmatic about developing a national health care system based around the needs of unions, when only about 11 percent of workers are union members.

“Ninety percent of the population does not have the luxury of collective bargaining for health care,” Vellardita said.

The debate on Medicare for all, he believes, has been framed around a false dichotomy between a universal health care system and protecting union rights to collective bargaining.

“I think we’re at a passing moment in history where both of those solutions are not the solutions we’re going to land on,” Vellardita said. “The first thing that has to be answered is [health care] a right and then, once it’s answered, what’s the role of the government — to be the delivery system or regulate the private sector delivery system?”

On this, the Nevada State Education Association — and, by extension, the National Education Association — and the Clark County Education Association, which broke away from the state and national affiliates last year, are in relative agreement.

“The National Education Association believes that affordable comprehensive health care is a right,” said Chris Daly, a lobbyist for the NSEA. “The association supports a national health care policy that mandates universal coverage with the highest quality health care at the lowest possible cost. The NEA also advocates for incremental reforms to improve the health and health care of children, students, and communities as well as their members.”

There’s one final element that plays into the discussion. Teachers, like the nurses, have been invested on the national level in the Medicare for all debate not just as consumers of health care but as people who work in a profession devoted to the individual wellbeing of humans. If their students aren’t healthy, teachers can’t teach them.

“Health care goes beyond our immediate self interest. It goes to the population we serve in our profession and that’s these kids. When we see these kids not having access to health care and coming into the classroom with the effects of that, you can’t walk away from the issue,” Vellardita said. “You cannot close your classroom door and walk away from this issue because it’s in your classroom."

A group of teachers in red shirts with signs at a rally in front of Liberty High School
Clark County School District teachers rally outside Liberty High School after CCSD Trustees cancel the school board meeting on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

The politics of health care

The question now is to what extent union’s positions on Medicare for all will shape who they ultimately decide to endorse — if they decide to endorse. Unions are an important constituency for Democrats, and their support could help tip the balance in the presidential nominating contests early next year.

But many unions have kept their powder dry so far, waiting to see how the crowded Democratic field thins out and giving union members time to consider their options.

The politically powerful Culinary Union — whose support is much coveted by Democratic presidential hopefuls — is no different. Arguello-Kline said the union has met with several candidates but that leaders aren’t making any decisions yet. She wouldn’t rule out the possibility of the union endorsing a candidate that backs a single payer system, but she stressed the difficulty of selling a candidate like that to her members.

“How am I going to go and talk to the members and say, ‘You have to support a member like that?’ I don’t think so,” Arguello-Kline said. “The members are really smart, and they want to protect their family first. They understand they have the right to protect their own health care too. How are you going to go and tell the members you’re supporting a person who is going to take away their health care?”

As far as what the union does need to hear from a candidate if they want to have any shot at its endorsement, Arguello-Kline said it’s simple.

“They need to say that they’re going to protect the Culinary Union health care,” she said. “All the union members, not only the Culinary Union.”

For its part, SEIU would like to see candidates keep talking about Medicare for all or any other solution that works toward the goal of universal coverage.

“If we start from the place that health care is a human right, then that means you have to have everybody in and nobody gets left out,” Shepherd said. “As a union that is the largest nurses union in the state, we want more people going to the doctor. We want more people getting the treatment they need so that health care workers can do what they were hired to do, not worried about having to turn away folks because they’re not eligible.”

Jeffrey Proffitt, business manager of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation (SMART) Workers Local 88, said that the union is in no “way shape or form” ready to endorse a candidate yet. However, he said the plan he believes that most suits union households right now is Biden’s, which he said would “take care of the folks that need the health care” but not “unravel the whole system over here for the unions.”

Right now, the union provides health care to its members through a trust fund that spans three states, but Proffitt said that they’re trying to transition to a more localized health plan similar to the one the Culinary Union has.

“It’s not working for my members right now, but I wouldn’t swing the pendulum the other way and say we need to go to strictly Medicare for all,” Proffitt said.

At the same time, he said that union workers have known Sanders “for years and years and he’s a strong union guy” but he’s “dead set on what he wants to do” on Medicare for all. With Warren, he believes there might be more wiggle room. The Massachusetts senator is expected to soon release a more detailed Medicare for all plan, including how to pay for it.

“What we do like about Elizabeth Warren is she says, ‘Let’s have a discussion.’ We’ve sat in the room with her and it’s about how can we do this. I don’t think that she’s dead set on everything she talks about because they’re ideas,” Proffitt said. “If Medicare for all can weave in with these systems where we can have our own [union] doctors and doctor’s offices, then I think you’ve got something special.”

They’re not the only ones who are open to listening to the arguments for a single-payer system, either. McAllister said that many AFL-CIO affiliates are supportive of something like a single-payer system. It’s more a question of how to get there, he said.

“One of the things I’ve found in this position here is labor’s all on the same mission but often they have a different idea of the best way to get there. That’s kind of where I think a lot of them are right now,” McAllister said. “We’re willing to listen to all options, but let’s make sure that the solution isn’t pitting one group against another.”

Union members rally on the Las Vegas Strip
Union members and activists rally during the May Day March near the Palms on Monday, May 1, 2017. Several thousand people marched along the Las Vegas Strip. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Governor could ignore salary demands under amended state worker collective bargaining bill

A bill giving more than 20,000 state workers the right to collectively bargain is moving forward with some major caveats — it would allow the governor the final say on wages, and wouldn’t bind the state to union demands on retirement contributions and health insurance.

The amended bill, heard late Wednesday in the Senate Finance Committee, would allow state employees to negotiate for salary and other benefits as part of 11 separate bargaining units beginning in 2021. But the governor could still disregard the conclusions of the negotiations if he or she wants.

“Notwithstanding the provisions of any collective bargaining agreement,” the amendment language reads, “the governor may include in the biennial proposed executive budget of the state any amount of money the governor deems appropriate for the salaries, wage rates or any other form of direct monetary compensation for employees.”

Collective bargaining for state employees was one of the biggest promises made by Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak and a major priority of AFSCME. It was considered on shaky footing for weeks because of the cost of allowing state workers to collectively bargain, but appears back on track.

Though Democratic Sen. David Parks is the bill sponsor, the amendment was presented by Sisolak’s Director of the Department of Business and Industry, Michael Brown. He said the bill would allow state workers to enjoy the same benefits and job security held by local government workers, who have been allowed to collectively bargain since 1969.

“With this amendment, this administration believes that SB135 will strike the creative balance to provide for the efficient management of state government and provide for the many men and women who faithfully serve Nevada,” he said. “Their skills, knowledge, experience and devotion have been invaluable to our state and we are grateful for their service.”

Although the amendment aimed to align the collective bargaining structure with the system used by local government by setting up a negotiating period and delineating topics that can be discussed in collective bargaining, the biggest change by far is expanding the governor’s latitude on budgeting. The governor’s decision will not be considered a “prohibited practice” in negotiations.

“Despite all that, the governor when he submits his executive budget can put in whatever salaries and wages he wishes,” Bruce Snyder, head of the Local Government Employee Management Relations Board, said during the hearing.

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

In spite of the rollbacks, the measure attracted support from various Nevada labor unions and dozens of green-shirted AFSCME members who burned the midnight oil for a chance to speak in favor of the bill.

“A lot of compromise has been put into this bill,” said Nevada AFL-CIO head Rusty McAllister. “This is a good step to getting these employees a seat at the table.”

McAllister said state employees will now be able to bargain on issues including safety and discipline that go beyond wages and benefits.

Several conservative and business groups testified against the bill, saying they were concerned that raising state worker salaries combined with promises to increase education funding in future sessions could put unmanageable pressures on the state budget.

“We would have less concern if there was an identified funding mechanism, but we feel this is setting ourselves up for, in the next two to four years, a considerable amount of resources that will have to be dedicated to this project,” said Bryan Wachter, lobbyist for the Retail Association of Nevada.

Woodhouse said the Finance Committee still needed to assess potential fiscal impacts of the bill and took no action on the measure after the half-hour hearing.

Major gun bill to drop local government firearm regulation, add 'Red Flag' and gun storage components

Various handguns as seen on display inside Discount Firearms & Ammo in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2018.

Senate leaders plan to put a waiver and heavily amend Democratic Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui’s bill to ban bump stocks and allow local governments to preempt state gun laws, amid concerns from labor unions that the bill could scare a national firearms tradeshow away from Las Vegas.

No work session or committee vote was held on AB291 on Friday, but the bill is expected to receive a waiver from legislative deadlines for continued work and a future amendment — agreed to by several gun safety groups — removing language allowing local governments to preempt state gun laws and instead replacing it with “red flag” provisions, which allow law enforcement and family members to request a court order temporarily seizing an individual's firearms. It’s also likely to include aspects of Democratic Assemblyman Ozzie Fumo’s bill creating criminal penalties for negligently storing or leaving a firearm where a child can access it.

"At the request of Everytown and other organizations I have decided to remove the pre-emption language from AB291," Jauregui said in a statement. "This is too important of an issue for me to risk moving forward without the support of a broad coalition. The provisions relating to blood alcohol content and banning bump stocks will move forward, and I am looking at other fixes to improve gun safety in our communities such as extreme risk legislation."

Jauregui, a survivor of the October 1 mass shooting, presented the original bill before a joint Assembly and Senate Judiciary Committee on April 1, and it passed the Assembly on a party-line 28-13 vote on April 23.

But the bill has hit a snag in the Senate, as a number of labor organizations have begun raising concerns that allowing local governments to pass more restrictive gun laws — a concept publicly embraced by Clark County Commission members Tick Segerblom and Justin Jones —  would cause the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s annual SHOT show in Las Vegas to move to a different municipality.

Rusty McAllister, head of the Nevada AFL-CIO, said his union was officially neutral on the bill, but was aware that several of his affiliate unions — namely the Teamsters — had concerns that allowing local governments to preempt state gun laws could lead to the SHOT show leaving the state.

“I know that the SHOT show is set up by Teamsters and torn down by Teamsters, so of course they have an interest in the show from a work standpoint,” he said.

Other labor representatives were more direct.

“The SHOT show is scheduled to be the largest show in the next three years, as far as trade shows go,” Laborers Local 872 lobbyist Tom Morley said. “It’s 60,000 heads in beds, $30 million in revenue, $5 million in payroll for the Teamsters in that short span. Why are we going to push it to another market?”

The idea of preemption has also caused some concerns among law enforcement. Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department lobbyist Chuck Callaway said the department was neutral on the bill but called preemption a “double-edged” sword with some minor benefits but could be logistically difficult to enforce in areas with multiple overlapping jurisdictions, such as Southern Nevada.

“Depending on the circumstances, you could have extreme agendas being pushed,” he said. “If you have the power, you could push an extreme agenda. It's a lot easier to pass something like that with seven people on a county commission than it is for 63 people in the Legislature.”

Callaway also repeated a possibility that the preemption provisions could be amended out and replaced with a “red flag” laws, which allows family members or law enforcement to petition a court to temporarily seize firearms from a potentially dangerous person. He said he wanted to see bill language first, but would likely be supportive of a measure after bringing his concerns to Democratic Sen. Julia Ratti, who sponsored a similar bill this session that died on the first legislative deadline.

Although no amendments have been offered yet on the bill, several supporters of the measure — including Battle Born Progress director Annette Magnus — said they believed the preemption language might be removed from the bill, a move that she said would severely water the measure down.

“We are disappointed with the process we’ve seen on the Senate side, and we are disappointed that this bill may change. I think we owe it to the victims of Route 91, 1 October shooting to do the right thing, and the right thing is to keep preemption in the bill,” she said. “By taking preemption out of this bill, you’re taking the teeth out. You’re taking the heart out.”

Elizabeth Becker, a volunteer with Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action, said her group would still be supportive of the bill without preemption, and she said the addition of “red flag” provisions was also a boost to gun safety.

“I still support altering  preemption in the state,” she said. “The thing about red flag (laws) is that red flags save lives now.”

The group also shared results of a poll conducted by ALG Research finding 70 percent of Nevadans supported “red flag” laws, including 90 percent of Democrats, 52 percent of Republicans and 62 percent of independents. The poll was conducted with 601 likely voters between April 28 and May 1, with a 4 percent margin of error.

The bill has also been staunchly opposed by the National Rifle Association and a PAC founded by former attorney general and Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Laxalt.