By Mark Waite
The Nye County Management Employee Association representative, Bob Jones, on Friday charged the county was ignoring his organization after the NCMEA didn’t ratify an agreement approved by county commissioners last summer.
One department head already left the county, a second has submitted notice of his resignation due to conditions at the county level, Jones said.
“Today we’re drawing a line in the sand. You are continuing to act like we do not exist. We are here, we’re not going away. You’re breaking state law by not bargaining with our association. You’re continuing to ignore our association. It’s illegal. We’re asking the board today to put a stop to this. We should be standing together as one, working together to run this county,” Jones said in a prepared statement delivered at the county commission meeting Friday.
Nye County District Attorney Brian Kunzi countered a new state law doesn’t afford protection to department heads under employee bargaining agreements.
The county hasn’t communicated with the newly-elected officers of the NCMEA, but continues to take out their dues, implying their acceptance of the organization, he said.
Changes to Nevada Revised Statute 288, which governs relations between government and public employees, doesn’t give the county the right to take away the constitutional rights of NCMEA employees, Jones said, the county is required to bargain in good faith.
“We’re not relinquishing our constitutional rights. We have a right to freedom of speech and a right to belong to any organization we want,” Jones said. “We’ve already lost one department head under this new, misguided law. He was a qualified, capable and dedicated department head who was tossed aside like last week’s garbage. We now have a second department head who has given notice because they can no longer function under these conditions.”
Jones didn’t specify which department heads he was referring to and wouldn’t comment to the Pahrump Valley Times in a follow-up phone call.
Former Nye County Emergency Management Services Director Brent Jones, the former representative of the NCMEA who was fired May 2, filed a demand letter claiming he was terminated after his protection under collective bargaining law ended. He also claimed he was fired while investigating a large misappropriation of funds and for rebuffing the county manager’s advances. None of the allegations have proven out thus far.
Nye County Information Technology Director Mark Hatfield has served notice he is leaving the county at the end of the year to return to Ohio.
Nye County Manager Pam Webster said she couldn’t speculate on what employees Jones was referring to.
“You are throwing out qualified, dedicated employees on a whim and without due process with your recent choices. This line of choice is costly and deceitful when it comes to legal settlements behind closed doors. As department heads, part of our function is to give you the straight up news and sometimes it’s bad. You’re making it very difficult to bring to light bad news knowing you can terminate at will without cause,” Bob Jones said.
The prepared statement came out while commissioners were voting on a change in the IT director’s job description. Jones said the NCMEA wasn’t consulted on the changes, which would increase responsibility for the IT director and change it to a position not represented by the union.
Kunzi said Jones can make whatever conclusions he wanted, but the law is clear.
“The county has done nothing but enforce a law passed by the Legislature that removes all department heads from the right to belong to any employee organization,” Kunzi said. “If the management association people have a problem with it they need to attack the people who passed the law not this board.”
Jones countered, “sir, you have the latitude to read that law any way you like.”
County commissioners on June 29 voted 4-1 to approve collective bargaining agreements with the Nye County Employees Association NCEA and the Nye County Management Employees Association NCMEA but not the Nye County Law Enforcement Association NCLEA or Nye County Law Enforcement Management Association NCLEMA
Nevada Revised Statute 288.140 states it is the right of every local government employee, subject to the limitations, to join any employee organization of the employee’s choice or to refrain from joining any employee organization.
A local government employer shall not discriminate in any way among its employees on account of membership or nonmembership in an employee organization.
County Commissioner Dan Schinhofen, who cast the sole vote against the agreements, is opposed to government employees belonging to unions. Schinhofen requested an opinion from the DA about a new state law that exempts supervisors from unions.
Senate Bill 98, introduced by State Sen. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, which passed the Legislature unanimously in 2011, exempts supervisory employees who have additional authority to make budgetary decisions; can hire, terminate or discipline employees; and make decisions relating to collective bargaining from protection under employee organizations.
The bill stated those employees formerly may or may not be members of employee organizations, Hardy’s law prohibits them from being members.
The law also exempts doctors and lawyers employed by government. The changes were made to Nevada Revised Statute 288.075 and NRS 288.140.
Kunzi advised commissioners: “They need to change the law if that’s what they want to do or file some type of legal action to challenge the law. But until that law is invalidated I can do nothing but recommend to you to proceed forward that department heads do not have any protection. They cannot by law belong to any employee organization.”
County Commission Chairman Lorinda Wichman advised Jones to take the DA’s advice.