Las Vegas Sun

September 19, 2014

Mayor: Time short for 141 Las Vegas city jobs to be saved

May 5 council meeting to show how private sector dealt with budget cuts, layoffs

Time is ticking away for Las Vegas city employees unions to reach agreement with the city or face 141 layoffs, says Mayor Oscar Goodman.

"This is coming to a screeching halt and the window is closing," Goodman told reporters today at his regular weekly press conference at city hall. The city council plans to approve a final budget on May 18.

The city wants employees to make concessions, which include no cost-of-living increases and an 8 percent salary cut to trim $29.7 million from the budget. The unions' offers have amounted to a $10 million cut, leaving a $19.7 million difference.

As a prelude to the final budget meeting, the city council will hear May 5 from people in the private sector about how they are dealing with bad economic times, Goodman said.

"I want people to understand what the truth is," the mayor said.

Goodman said he met with a woman this week who had been employed by one of the major local hotels for about 15 years, who was making about $120,000 a year. The woman worked 60 hours a week, received no overtime and no travel reimbursement, the mayor said.

She and fellow employees were told their salaries would be cut by 10 percent across the board and their 401K retirement accounts would be put on hold, he said. The employees were told they could leave or stay under those circumstances, Goodman said.

"That's the way the private sector addresses these issues," he said.

The May 5 meeting will feature local business leaders and members of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, he said.

"I just want the city employees to know that this is serious business, that we don't want to lose any of our employees," Goodman said. "If they're going to do anything, they have to do it right away or else that we're going to be acting more like the private sector."

New LVCEA offer coming

Goodman indicated he will soon get a formal review of the latest salary concession put out by Las Vegas' largest city employee union, the Las Vegas City Employees Association.

The LVCEA, which has about 120 members who would lose their jobs under a tentative budget approved by the city council in March, has been meeting with city staff for several weeks. The two sides are about $8 million apart in their talks.

Goodman said he couldn't comment yet on the union's latest offer, which he said is being modified.

However, he said it still does not meet the 8 percent salary cut the city staff has requested.

He said he had not seen any new proposals from the city's three other employee unions, which represent firefighters, corrections officers and city marshals.

The city has asked for $8.8 million from firefighters, but they have offered $900,000 in concessions, a $7.9 million difference.

Goodman said none of Las Vegas city firefighters were among the list of 141 employees who would lose their jobs.

"But that doesn't mean that things won't change," he said. "And I'm not threatening. I'm just trying to be realistic about it."

According to the city staff, the corrections officers union have been asked to trim their budget by $3.1 million, but their concession offer would not save any money, so the difference is still $3.1 million.

The city marshals' union has been asked to trim $1.1 million, but their offer amounts to $400,000, which is a difference of $700,000.

If each of the unions come in with less than an 8 percent salary cut, the city will consider that offer, Goodman said.

"I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth," he said. "But I don't see anything close to that taking place at this time."

Hypothetically, if all the unions decided they wanted to take a 6 percent salary cut, that would save the city money and not as many of the 141 employees would be laid off, he said.

"From my perspective, I want to be reasonable. The other council members appear to want to be reasonable. The (city) manager wants to be reasonable, but we haven't gotten those kinds of offers," he said.

Mayor exploring other ideas

Goodman, who indicated last week that the city might be able to save money by privatizing some city jobs, also hinted he might have some other ideas up his sleeve.

"I'm exploring certain remedies that have not really been fully discussed. But I don't want to go into any details at this point in time other than to say that I will be meeting with other government officials from other government entities," Goodman said.

He said he has spoken with Reno Mayor Bob Cashell, "and he's on the same page I'm on. We'll be meeting probably sometime within the next two weeks."

Goodman was asked what he thought of the full-page ad in the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Wednesday that told readers that the North Las Vegas union made a substantial salary concession offer to the City Council. The ad includes a black-and-white photo of a firefighter spraying water on a burning four-story building. That city is expecting to layoff 16 firefighters.

Goodman said he didn't see the correlation between the concession offers and battling a fire.

"Let's assume a fire person was going to make a concession of 8 percent. What does that have to do with the response time? Nothing," he said. "They just make less money. I don't see the argument. But that's something I'll discuss with North Las Vegas officials in coming weeks, as well."

Goodman, told by a reporter that some parents were upset by the extreme sports program being cut, said he was sorry, but some programs had to be axed. The program cuts hinge on what kinds of concessions the unions make, he said.

"If the employees stayed flat -- that means no COLA (cost of living allowance), no steps, no longevity and agree to an 8 percent cut, we would be able to keep all the programs, keep all the employees, at least for another year," he said.

"We're not getting that kind of response, so we have no choice," he said. "We let employees go and you have to cut back on programs."

Goodman said he has heard that Los Angeles is considering going to a three-day work week for its city hall employees. And he said he also heard that seven fire stations are being closed in Reno as a result of bad economic times.

"These are real things," he said. "A lot of people are acting as though they're not real and we're not going to do anything about it. I promise you from my perspective, and I'm one vote, that I'm going to vote to do something about it."

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