- Associated Press - Friday, October 9, 2015

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Las Vegas police unions have filed a federal lawsuit claiming the department’s interpretation of a new law about pay for employees doing union work is unconstitutional.

At issue is the law that requires unions to pay for any leave taken by employees performing union-specific duties.

The unions said it would impact the nine officers who are currently paid their regular salaries and benefits through the department but are dedicated full time to the work of the unions, instead of traditional police work.

The two unions representing about 3,400 police and correctional officers and managers and supervisors filed the lawsuit this week.

Mark Chaparian, executive director of the officers’ union who has been on the force for 24 years, said the law allows paid leave if the union absorbs the costs of its work, either by paying or reimbursing for the personnel cost outright or offsetting the costs by the value of concessions made by the union during bargaining.

The law is in effect but won’t apply to the two unions until July 1, 2016, when their current contracts expire.

Chaparian said the police agency’s leadership has already rejected any discussion and insisted on being paid or reimbursed for the costs of the union leaders who are not doing traditional police work. Officer Jesse Roybal, a police spokesman, declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.

Chaparian said both sides have long agreed that the department would keep a specific number of officers on the regular payroll so they could focus on union duties full time because they would be working with officers for the good of the force. Membership dues would be used to cover the rest of the unions’ incurred costs.

The federal lawsuit claims the way the new law is being applied violates the unions’ First Amendment right to free speech and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment because the police department offers similarly paid leaves to do work with other, non-union groups, such as the Nevada Chiefs and Sheriffs Associations, Police Athletic League and minority police associations. Chaparian said this amounts to viewpoint discrimination.

“They have demanded cash,” he said. “That’s just plain union busting.”

Chaparian said the department’s unwillingness to consider the value of the future concessions would effectively cripple the union’s ability to carry out its function. In addition to bargaining and lobbying, Chaparian said the union leadership also represents members in disputes, internal affairs and investigations and benefits counseling.

The unions are seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction so the paid leaves can continue as the lawsuit is pending.

The issue also impacts the four union leaders representing about 1,100 civilian employees. That union was originally listed as a plaintiff but dropped out of the latest lawsuit because their contract expired as the law changed. It is now fighting the police department in arbitration and is already being billed by the department for union costs.

John Dean Harper, the attorney representing the civilians union, said the group supports the other unions in the federal lawsuit but that it waiting on answers in its own case, which is expected in November.

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