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Nevada state workers sue governor over coronavirus furloughs

By ThisIsReno
The Governor posed for a photo op after the meeting with his new slogan. Image: Eric Marks

By SAM METZ Associated Press/Report for America

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — A labor union representing more than 6,000 Nevada state workers announced Friday it had filed a formal complaint to the state’s labor relations board against Gov. Steve Sisolak.

In the complaint, the American Federation of State County Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Nevada branch claims that Sisolak violated a collective bargaining statute he signed into law in 2019 by refusing to negotiate the furloughs and salary freezes enacted to cut spending amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In a June 11 letter to state employees announcing the furloughs, Sisolak lamented how the revenue shortfalls would prevent Nevada from using funds to enact policies he and the Democrat-controlled Legislature have passed since 2018.

“The economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to take a different direction with our state budget to respond to this new economic reality,” Sisolak wrote.

In the complaint, AFSCME attorney Fernando R. Colón writes that Sisolak “unilaterally determined” state workers would be subject to salary freezes and one-day-per-month furloughs.

It says union representatives requested Sisolak enter into negotiations over the budget-reduction measures the day after receiving the letter.

On June 17, according to the filing, Sisolak “refused to bargain with (the) complainant over mandatory subjects of bargaining” and, in doing so, violated Nevada labor law. It does not specify how the governor communicated the refusal.

The complaint arrives one year after Sisolak signed a bill giving state employees the right to collective bargaining. With its passage, the governor and AFSCME — which spent $2.4 million in independent expenditures supporting Sisolak’s gubernatorial campaign — fulfilled decades of Democratic Party efforts to strengthen labor protections for state workers.

“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 Local 4041 president Harry Schiffman said in a news release announcing the formal complaint.

After AFSCME’s announcement, Meghin Delaney, the governor’s spokeswoman, said Sisolak and his staff were willing to engage in discussions with groups affected by Nevada’s budget cuts and hoped federal relief funds could limit their severity.

“Although he has yet to receive any proposals on potential savings from AFSCME, he would be more than willing to review them and looks forward to receiving them soon. Unprecedented situations of this magnitude require all Nevadans to work together on solutions, not tear each other down,” Delaney said in a statement.

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Sam Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues.

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