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December 21, 2014

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Pay increase is only for some under DA

As court reinstates raises of most-senior prosecutors, it takes away pay hikes for their lowest-paid colleagues

Clark County’s highest paid prosecutors are getting the raises they fought for this year, but their less experienced colleagues are paying the price.

The Clark County Prosecutors Association had sued the county because its senior prosecutors believed the county was legally bound to give them 3 percent raises. The county said the agreement wasn’t binding, that the poor economy made it necessary to lower the raises to 1 percent.

In late September, though, District Judge Michelle Leavitt agreed with the prosecutors union that county commissioners could not unilaterally reduce those raises.

So the county is now complying — and thereby throwing the decision right back in the face of the prosecutors union. That’s because Leavitt also invalidated a 4 percent “salary adjustment” pay increase for 25 of the district attorney’s newest prosecutors. So while senior prosecutors will get their raises, those of newer prosecutors will be taken away.

To that effect, the county sent letters late last week telling the newer attorneys the county would be garnishing their wages over five pay periods to get the money back.

But if the prosecutors union doesn’t agree, it could be the start of another lawsuit with the prosecutors taking their own employer on in court.

Pamela Weckerly, the prosecutors union president, said Monday her group would likely decide this week whether to sue the county again or to appeal Leavitt’s ruling.

County commissioners shook their heads at the latest turn.

Chris Giunchigliani

Chris Giunchigliani

Steve Sisolak

Steve Sisolak

“I think the whole thing is kind of unsettling, from the judge’s decision to this,” Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said.

Commissioner Steve Sisolak called it a classic example of “be careful what you wish for, because you may get it.”

He wondered whether county employees seeking more money realize the source is finite.

“I get the sense that there are a tremendous amount of nonbelievers, people who still think the county has a bottomless pot of money and can afford to pay this stuff,” he said. “The truth is, we don’t.”

Initially, hope arose that after winning in court, the union would approach the county with concessions, the way all other unionized employees have.

“So far,” Giunchigliani said, “we haven’t heard a peep.”

Sisolak said he thinks the prosecutors are making themselves look bad because they are already making “substantial salaries and they are getting cost-of-living and merit raises, while at the same time not a day goes by that I don’t find one or two people who have lost their jobs.”

In 2005, when Clark County’s district attorneys formed a union, they were already among the highest paid county prosecutors in the country. At the time chief deputy district attorney Robert Daskas said prosecutors were not suggesting they were underpaid.

Rather, he said, “we simply want a voice at the bargaining table.”

That statement of purpose was put to the test this year when commissioners lowered a planned 3 percent cost-of-living raise to 1 percent for prosecutors with more than two years on the job. The average salary of those lawyers was $127,864 in 2008; the average for prosecutors at the top of the pay scale is $171,511 with longevity pay included.

Instead of a 3 percent raise, commissioners in June gave those senior attorneys just 1 percent, the same that the county’s 9,500 service employees got.

The move would have saved the county $311,000.

While those senior attorneys are getting their $311,000 back, the younger attorneys have to pay back $39,000, about one-third of the $114,000 they would have received over the fiscal year.

Don Burnette, the county’s chief administrative officer, said individual payments from the less experienced prosecutors will vary because some have been working for the district attorney’s office longer than others. The back payments will range from $51 to $3,000. The 4 percent raises were authorized by the board in early June, but some of the prosecutors had been waiting since September 2008 for the raises.

The county plans to begin garnishing wages, if necessary, on Nov. 20.

That’s not to say the newer prosecutors won’t be getting raises. They will still receive a 1 percent cost-of-living increase.

And at their one-year anniversaries, they will be eligible for 4 percent “merit pay” increases.

But after working in the district attorney’s office two years, they and all senior employees are eligible for 5 percent merit pay increases annually.

Looking at the court battle between prosecutors and county administrators from afar, Carole Vilardo, lobbyist for the Nevada Taxpayers Association, was stunned that anyone is complaining about getting little to no pay raises.

“What amazes me is that government employees are worried about giving up a little something so that their fellow workers could continue to be employed,” she said. “Don’t you think in this economy it’s more important to preserve jobs and give up something than getting another raise?”

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