Las Vegas Sun

August 22, 2014

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Union’s concessions could start a trend

After a decisive vote from Las Vegas city workers to allow cuts in their future cost-of-living raises, three other unions may be primed to fall like dominoes and ratify similar agreements with the city.

And it may be the case that public sector unions throughout Clark County will feel increased pressure to make concessions because of the pact.

Monday evening, the Las Vegas City Employees’ Association ratified an agreement with the city by an almost 10-1 margin — 332 to 35. The contract is a three-year extension of its collective bargaining agreement, now in effect until 2014.

All four unions have been under increasing pressure from Mayor Oscar Goodman and other city officials who have demanded wage compromises to help the city deal with a projected $150 million shortfall over the next five years.

Currently, the 93 percent of city workers represented by a union receive 3.5 percent cost-of-living raises. Under the agreement, they’ll get as little as 2.5 percent, assuming the agreement is approved by the City Council at its meeting today.

Those diminished raises won’t include additional merit and “step” raises — automatic pay hikes built into salary scales for certain positions — that will be kept.

With the threat of layoffs, the employees union, which represents about 1,500 city workers, has been signaling that it’s ready to bargain.

The three other unions representing city workers — including marshals, firefighters and detention workers — have been more reluctant to negotiate, and at times been openly skeptical about the city’s claims of a budgetary meltdown. But it appears that these unions may now be closer to cutting and ratifying deals similar to the employees’ union pact.

Though no official with the three unions has directly confirmed it, several small signs point in that direction.

Employees’ Association President Tommy Ricketts said it is his understanding that the firefighters union — the International Association of Firefighters Local 1285 — is nearing a deal with the city.

Ricketts also said the detention officers’ union, the Las Vegas Peace Officers Association, has crafted an agreement with the city similar to that of his group, but that members had yet to vote.

The head of that union, Tracey Valenzuela, could not be reached.

Firefighters local President Dean Fletcher, would not discuss the status of negotiations — though he did confirm discussions with the city are ongoing.

Fletcher also declined to say what he thought of the newly ratified employees association pact.

Chris Collins, executive director of the union that bargains both for Metro Police officers and the city’s marshals — the Las Vegas Police Protective Association — said his group had internally reached an agreement. But that was before they saw a city budget report showing that revenue had been up, not down.

“I’m not saying we won’t take less of a raise. We want to do our part to make our community viable,” Collins said.

“We all live here and have families. We’re not going to bankrupt the city or the county by any stretch of the imagination. But a need has to be there.”

The report Collins referred to appears to have been bolstered by an accountant hired by the unions who said there are “pockets of funds” available to the city that it has failed to take into account.

The city’s top finance official has taken issue with that report, saying the accountant repeatedly misinterpreted city budget data.

The employees union contract could have ramifications beyond the city.

David Hames, professor of management at UNLV, said it’s likely that decisions made by unions at the city level could have repercussions for those with county contracts, such as Metro.

“I would expect that this strengthens the hand of county management to say, ‘Look what city workers are doing — you ought to do it too,’ ” Hames said.

Nationally, unions in both the private and public sector have been making concessions recently, said Charles Craver, a labor relations professor at George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C.

In the public sector, unions still have tremendous power, Craver said, but when one union agrees to concessions, management’s hand is strengthened and the others begin to feel pressure to follow.

“And if the alternative is huge layoffs, that’s a very powerful motivator,” Craver said, adding that normally a politician is loath to lay off anyone but is more empowered to do so in a recession.

As the recession continues nationally and locally, city workers might consider themselves fortunate compared with employees of other cities and states whose leaders are demanding no raises for public workers.

One Las Vegas city worker who voted to approve the reworked contract said he recognized the difference.

“The majority of people I’ve spoken to agree that we need to do our part,” said William Evers, a carpenter with the city’s facilities management division for the past dozen years.

“A guy was saying to me just the other day, ‘It could be 1 percent or it could be 100 percent. What’s worse?’”

Sun reporter Megan McCloskey contributed to this story.

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