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Goodman: City could save 171 jobs if unions agree to pay cut

Job cuts part of city effort to deal with $70 million budget shortfall

Updated Thursday, Feb. 25, 2010 | 2:34 p.m.

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Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman responds to questions from reporters after announcing Thursday, Feb. 24, 2010, that 171 city workers would be laid off in June if labor unions don't agree to an 8 percent salary cut.

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman and City Manager Betsy Fretwell made it clear today how they're going to deal with a $70 million shortfall in the city's budget — lay off 171 city employees by July 1.

But they'll back off if the four labor unions representing the city employees agree to reopen their contracts and take concessions that include an 8 percent across-the-board salary cut, the two city leaders said.

"Every city employee, whether it's a fellow who's taking care of the grass at the ball park, a marshal, who is out there policing the parks, or a firefighter, they have to agree to an 8 percent reduction across the board, and then, business as usual," Goodman said.

Today's announcement is part of an effort to get ready for the Las Vegas City Council's March 10 budget hearing, Goodman said.

"To date, there has not been any type of agreement by the collective bargaining agents that have contracts to open up those contracts to discuss helping us reach the budget," Goodman said.

Those are the Las Vegas City Employees Association, which is the general bargaining unit for city employees; the Las Vegas Police Protective Association; the marshal's unit, which is represented by the PPA; and Las Vegas Firefighters IAFF Local 1285, which represents the firefighters, and Goodman said the city is currently in collective bargaining negotiations with firefighters.

The city has asked, but cannot force, the other three bargaining units to come back to the table, he said.

"The only alternative you have is to lay off people, or to fire people or a reduction in force, whatever euphemism you want to use," he said. "And I want to look you all in the eye and say that's not something we want to do."

Goodman said he would prefer that the other city employees would be altruistic and caring about their fellow employees.

"If they take an 8 percent reduction in salary, then nobody's gonna lose their job," Goodman said.

Those who already made the agreement are the so-called elective, executive and appointive positions, which include Goodman, Fretwell and members of their staffs.

Employees who are affected will be notified today, he said.

"They're the best, but there will be less of them," Goodman said. "And because there will be less of them, the services that we render will be substantially reduced."

Goodman said the cuts are across the board, although some departments will have more cuts than others.

"We're asking everybody to chip in and we're not excusing anybody from the pain," he said.

Jobs will be eliminated based mostly on seniority, he said.

Goodman said during town hall meetings, people have said they want to make sure that emergency response times, children's services and senior services remain intact.

"We'll do the best we can. And we took all of that into consideration," he said. "But the bottom line is, if you don't have money to pay for it, you can't do it."

Fretwell said the budget plan reflects the results of the public input, plus the council's input, as well as work load.

"At the end of the day, the people that are identified on the list where we have suggested reductions will bump back, which is a bargaining term, based on seniority," she said. "They will be able to take a person who has less seniority out of a job they've held previously, with enough seniority. It's kind of a complicated approach."

She said 171 people would lose their jobs, but 260-plus total people would be affected because of the "bump back" system.

Goodman said he was concerned about the efficiencies the job losses and the bumping will have on city services.

"That's why I'm praying that the lightbulb will go on and people will say we're going to do it," Goodman said. "These economic times are going to change and let's take care of our colleagues and let's all chip in. And we won't have longer lines, we won't have grass that grows higher, we won't have streets that aren't as clean — all the things that the city provides."

Fretwell sent out a letter to all employees on Nov. 20 telling them about possible cuts, asking for the bargaining units to respond by Jan. 7. However, there has been no response from the unions, they said.

"We're very serious about this. This is not a threat. This is reality," Goodman said.

He said since he first became mayor in 1999, the city council has been told there would come a day when employee salaries, which are the bulk of the city's budget, would face a shortfall.

"Nobody ever dreamed it would come this quickly as a result of the recession," he said.

Fretwell started working on budget reductions in 2008 and the city council has been gradually making cuts, Goodman said.

The budget cuts are being required because of a recession-caused drop in the sales tax portion of the consolidated tax revenue the city gets from the state, he said.

Fretwell said the cuts represent about 16 percent of the city's total workforce. Of the 650 firefighters, about 46 positions would be cut, including 25 first-responder positions that are vacant.

"There are no fire suppression layoffs in this plan," she said. She said the layoffs also include 48 people who are parks and recreation employees. "The impacts in this area are significant and drastic," she said.

Asked if those layoffs mean parks would be closed or hours would be cut, Goodman said "there are no sacred cows at this point ... We've already closed some of our rec centers on Sundays, we're talking about reducing hours on others."

Fretwell said rolling out the recommendations now gives the labor unions time to consider the cuts, as well as the mayor and the council before the council votes on it March 10.

Fretwell said at that time her office would begin immediately notifying employees about the "bumping process," and what position rights more senior employees have.

Employees would then decide whether they would stay with the city or whether they would leave city employment in June, she said.

A reporter suggested that employees who are being notified today are now "walking wounded."

"I call it carnage," Goodman said. "They're not wounded, they're dead unless their colleagues revive them."

"It's not in my hands. It's in their colleagues' hands," Goodman said. "I have no choice. I mean if we can't pay for the services .... I'm not going to allow the city to be bankrupt."

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