navada corrections

BARGAIN: Nevada Department of Corrections COs are seeking representation by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. They are among the first to take advantage of a new law giving state workers in Nevada the right to collectively bargain. Sgt. Shari Kassebaum, second from left, is the president of the 1,800-member Corrections Officers union.

Corrections Officers will be among the first Nevada state workers to collectively bargain following passage of a bill extending those rights earlier this summer.

Although Nevada’s local-government workers have been allowed to bargain collectively for decades, state workers had not had been permitted to do so until Gov. Steve Sisloak signed legislation in June. 

Lobbied for Change

The Corrections Officers’ unit on Aug. 23 submitted a petition to state officials seeking representation by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees at contract time. About 1,800 COs are part of the unit.

The 1.4 million-member AFSCME, the country’s largest public-employee union, lobbied strongly for the change.

“This bill is about respect for state employees who make their communities stronger every day,”  AFSCME’s president, Lee Saunders, said after the Governor signed the bill. “By signing this bill, Governor Sisolak demonstrates his understanding of the importance of giving working people a seat at the table and the voice on the job they deserve. Americans are looking for an answer to a rigged economy that favors the wealthy, and it’s clear that they are turning to unions in growing numbers. It is time to make it easier all across the country for working people to join in strong unions.”

The Governor said during his State of the State address that allowing state workers to collectively bargain would be among his priorities.

‘Gives Us Accountability’

The Corrections Officers unit’s president, Sgt. Shari Kassebaum, told the Nevada Current that aside from being able to carve out a contract, unionization will oblige both superiors and the state Department of Corrections to recognize grievances and formalize processes to address them.

“No one in that department is ever held accountable,” Ms. Kassebaum told the Current. “If you’re a Lieutenant or above, you can do whatever you want. Now we will be able to hold them accountable.” 

She said that sometimes “unbearable” working conditions have led to high turnover among the COs. “Our officers recognize there’s a need for a union to come in and reorganize our department, bring standards, change the staffing levels and make it a safe working environment for everybody,” Sergeant Kassebaum said.

She added that she was hopeful that unionization would bring about a more resolute and unified Corrections Officer corps, and recognition as such from the DOC.

‘Not Just the Pay’

“What’s making them leave?  It’s not just the pay,” she told the Current. “If we make the job so unbearable that people don’t want to come to work, we need to change the morale of our employees.  That starts with standards, fair practices and fair promotions.” 

The NDOC took a dim view of her comments, saying that misconduct allegations are always taken seriously.

“At the same time, NDOC disputes the validity of Ms. Kassebaum’s allegations which cast a shadow on the hard-working men and women at Nevada’s prisons and correctional camps,” a DOC spokesman, Scott Kelley, told the Current.

Because of the law, an estimated 20,000 Nevada state workers overall will now be able to bargain collectively.

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