LAS VEGAS — The Clark County Education Association's new mandatory benefits-review program — requiring all teachers to meet one-on-one with CCEA representatives and listen to union-membership pitches — has rubbed many teachers the wrong way.

That's because the four-page notice sent to Clark County public school teachers by the union prominently stated, in boldface type, that “failure to complete this Review process may result in suspension of health coverage.”

Because a significant part of the meetings turned out to be listening to union reps pitch the benefits of union membership, some teachers said they wondered if the reviews were really an attempt to shore up CCEA’s declining membership.

Teachers Health Trust is owned by the CCEA teacher union, and all board members are appointed by the CCEA president.

"We know that you may not always have time to educate yourself on your employee benefits but we also know that you count on those benefits when you need them,” stated the notice sent teachers. “To that end, CCEA, in conjunction with Teachers Health Trust, will be conducting a Benefits Review with all CCSD teachers."

The notice listed several items to be discussed during the benefits review, but the item at the top of the list was: "Benefits of CCEA Membership." Other topics included premium-only plans, flexible spending accounts, and PERS retirement contributions.

Several CCSD teachers, who requested anonymity, told Nevada Journal they were "furious" over the meetings and questioned CCEA's motives for implementing the review.

Indeed, CCSD confirmed to Nevada Journal that it received complaints from teachers who thought the CCEA was using the benefits review as an opportunity to "sell or push union membership upon them."

David Waterhouse, a special education teacher at Desert Pines High School, hasn't had his one-on-one meeting yet but went on the record saying the review is another attempt by the union to "self propagate."

"[CCEA and Health Trust] haven't been working for us in a long time," said Waterhouse. "We're paying $550 a month for our coverage but there's got to be a capable alternative out there."

On Nov. 30, three weeks after the initial notification, CCEA issued a statement of “clarification”:

The Benefit Review is designed to provide valuable information about employee health coverage and other programs available that can be beneficial to you and your family. These are decisions only you can make. You are under no obligation to purchase anything.

The statement also reemphasized that teachers might lose their coverage if they didn’t submit to a review that included a hard sell of joining CCEA:

The Trust routinely verifies the eligibility of teachers and their dependents who are receiving benefits. This is to protect the Trust's assets and to ensure that only those persons who are properly enrolled for coverage are receiving benefits. The Trust Plan's Document states as follows: 'your failure to comply with any request made or condition imposed by The Trust could result in denial of your benefits.' (Emphasis added.)

The notice didn't address concerns regarding the prominent placement of the CCEA membership topic.

Representatives of the CCEA and its statewide counterpart, the Nevada State Education Association, confirmed to Nevada Journal they'd heard concerns from teachers regarding the benefits review. However, they said, all concerns had been cleared up.

Letty Elias, CCEA's assistant executive director, acknowledged there was some "initial reluctance to participate," but added teachers "quickly embraced the process." He estimated the reviews will be completed by February.

"As of Dec. 21 when teachers began their winter break, thousands of teachers had already completed their one-on-one benefit review and reported they were satisfied with the results," Elias wrote in an email.

"While it was the first time for Clark County teachers, benefits reviews have been taking place across Nevada's school districts for years — Washoe is in its eighth year. Clark County's took the longest to implement, primarily because of size."

CCSD told Nevada Journal that Teachers Health Trust handles all administrative functions of the benefits package and didn't need the district's permission to implement the benefits-review program, even if the program forced teachers to listen to a pitch for union membership.

"Our jurisdiction ends at the bargaining table," said Amanda Fulkerson, CCSD spokeswoman. "All of the day-to-day functions belong to the Health Trust and if this [benefits review] is a program they view as beneficial to teachers, that's within their power to organize it."

When Nevada Journal asked about teacher concerns related to union membership, neither the CCEA nor NSEA responded. 

Kyle Gillis is a reporter for Nevada Journal, a publication of the Nevada Policy Research Institute. For more in-depth reporting, visit http://nevadajournal.com/ and http://npri.org/.