Saturday, June 23, 2012 | 2 a.m.
A local libertarian think tank's initiative to persuade Clark County schoolteachers to drop their union membership drew the ire of union officials Thursday.
The Nevada Policy Research Institute launched a campaign this month to inform teachers of their right to opt out of the union between July 1 and 15. Nevada is a right-to-work state, which means teachers cannot be compelled to join the union as a condition of employment.
NPRI argues the two-week opt-out window is too narrow and occurs when teachers are on summer vacation. Many teachers may not know they can drop their membership, said Victor Joecks, NPRI's director of communications.
Joecks penned an article listing five reasons why teachers should consider dropping their union, including a recent Las Vegas Review-Journal article that found higher than average salaries given to union leaders in 2009.
Joecks — who was on Sun columnist Jon Ralston's "Face to Face" TV program to talk about the issue — came to Thursday's School Board meeting armed with a stack of pre-written opt-out letters and stamped envelopes. He said it was an effort to make it easier for members to exit their union.
"Teachers should have a choice about their membership in the union," Joecks said. "Unfortunately, they only have that choice between July 1 and 15."
Joecks, who was flanked by two teachers who supported NPRI's message, said he plans to return during the July 12 School Board meeting to distribute letters and envelopes.
Few union members at the meeting seem to have taken up Joecks' offer, but that didn't stop union officials from fuming about what they said was a personal attack from NPRI.
The union relies on its $768-a-year membership dues to fund its organization. The union, whose membership has been declining in the wake of the recession, also receives district funding to support its nonprofit Teachers Health Trust.
"If these guys had their way, teachers would be working minimum wage," said John Vellardita, executive director of the Clark County Education Association. "Come ask me July 16 how effective these neocons are in bashing teachers."
The union's furor extended to the School District, as well. Association President Ruben Murillo told the School Board during public comment to terminate School District spokeswoman Amanda Fulkerson's position.
Murillo argued the School District's communication department, which he said was overpaid, was encouraging teachers to drop the union by circulating NPRI's article.
"Is that collaboration?" Murillo said. "These tactics may have worked for (Fulkerson's former employer Arnold) Schwarzenegger, but they have no place here in Clark County."
School Board member Deanna Wright fired back.
"We are not encouraging teachers to drop their membership," she said. "Even though we've had our differences, we respect the (union)."