Nevada state workers get raises, but no bargaining rights

State workers failed again in efforts to get collective bargaining rights, but did get an unexpected pay raise from the 2003 Legislature.

"Considering the environment, we came out pretty good," said Scott MacKenzie, executive director of the 3,600-member State of Nevada Employees Association.

MacKenzie said the 2 percent pay raise scheduled to take effect in July 2004 for about 15,000 state workers is mostly a "wash." He added employees will have to pay higher premiums to the Public Employees Retirement System and to cover their dependents in the state health insurance plan, where benefits have been reduced.

Lawmakers also approved an interim legislative study of combining the health insurance programs of all public employees in Nevada under one policy.

Having 125,000 public employees under one policy would mean better benefits and lower premiums, MacKenzie said. The study will be done in the interim and the results will be presented to the 2005 Legislature.

The Public Employees Benefits Program, which provides the insurance for state workers and their dependents, has been in financial trouble for the past several years.

State employees are the only government organization in Nevada without the right to bargain collectively for salaries, benefits and other work-related issues, MacKenzie said.

The association has sued the state Corrections Department in federal court in Las Vegas, alleging it has been harassed in trying to organize union workers and that there were problems with security and the safety of correctional officers at High Desert State Prison.

There was nothing in Gov. Kenny Guinn's original budget for a pay raise for the workers. But President Bush's tax bill is sending an additional $100 million to Nevada, freeing up money for a raise in the second year, officials said.

The Senate on Saturday passed and sent to Guinn a bill to increase longevity pay, by $25 to $75 per year of service, for longtime state employees who are at the top of their scale and are ineligible for yearly increases for merit.


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