ELKO — Seven deputy district attorneys and five public defenders in Elko County might not get to negotiate for raises or changes to vacation time for fiscal year 2019 if county commissioners decide not to forgive the Elko County Public Attorney Association’s late request for collective bargaining.
Not having the negotiation could detract from service to justice, said deputy district attorney Jeff Slade, because experienced public prosecutors and defenders “can walk away from the county.”
The association negotiates the criminal lawyers’ employment agreements with the county. By seven days, the group missed the state statute deadline of Feb. 1 to request discussions about terms that require the budgeting of money.
As a result, the county’s labor and employment attorney notified the association that “the County will not engage in negotiations related to economic issues for FY 2019,” according to a Feb. 14 letter from the Allison MacKenzie law firm. The letter states that the parties can still proceed with noneconomic negotiations.
Slade appeared before the county commissioners during the Feb. 21 meeting and asked the board to consider the association’s letter as timely. He used the public comment period to make the plea.
“Just because you have the right to do something, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do,” Slade said.
He related the situation to a court case that tried a child abuser during which a deadline was missed, but the prosecutor did not take advantage of the error and won the case anyway.
“I hope you will vote to forgive us for the seven days that we were late so we can go forward with meaningful negotiations this year,” Slade said.
The association requested that an item be placed on the commissioners’ March 7 agenda.
The county’s counsel sent a notice that the commissioners are “not at liberty to discuss the issue outside of negotiations,” according to a Feb. 28 email. Commissioners will meet in a closed session March 7 to receive an update status and discuss labor negotiations, according to the posted agenda.
“The next step in open session is presenting the request, and the commission will look at whether to approve the request or not approve it,” said Elko County Manager Robert Stokes, who declined to comment further. “A lot of various rules and statutes are attached, and we have to be careful.”
Without collective bargaining, Slade said, the 12 association members might miss out on the opportunity to discuss specific employment terms that could incentivize experienced professionals to stay in the county.
“We will not be able to negotiate any increase in salary or whether they get vacation days or anything like that,” he said, explaining that the lawyers understand when raises are not an option because of county budgetary constraints. “This year, we won’t even have the opportunity to find out.”
Slade added that no one in the association realized the full ramifications of missing the deadline. For fiscal year 2017, the group also submitted a late notice, Slade said, and the county “didn’t make any issue of it.” This year, he said the county’s “cheap-shot” actions seem “hostile.”
Stokes said he could not respond to those remarks.
“We’re just hoping they will do the right thing instead of being so hyper-focused on what they can legally do,” Slade said, assuring that the association won’t ever miss the deadline again. “There has got to be a better connection here between keeping good employees and treating them with the kind of respect they deserve for the work that they do and less time being treated hostilely.”