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October 1, 2014

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Las Vegas mayor calls on city employee unions to reopen contracts

Non-union employees tentatively agree to an 8 percent salary and benefit cut

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Dave Toplikar

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman said on Jan. 7, 2010, that the 8 percent salary and benefits cut the city’s so-called elective and appointive employees have agreed to take in lieu of layoffs won’t take effect unless the city’s employees represented by union contracts agree to do the same.

Proposed pay cuts in lieu of layoffs for Las Vegas city employees will be an "all-or-nothing" deal, says Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman.

Although 298 non-union Las Vegas city employees who are in so-called executive and appointive jobs have agreed to take an 8 percent pay cut and make other concessions to avoid layoffs, union employees would have to do the same — or the deal is off, Goodman told reporters at his weekly press conference today.

"We're asking everybody to come to the table," the mayor said. "We can't force them to. But it's going to be an all-or-nothing proposition. This is a global deal. And the 8 percent that the appointives and the electives gave up, they will not be held to that, if, in fact, everybody doesn't go along with the program. We're not going to ask one group to suffer while others won't play the game. So we're going to wait to see what happens."

Because of falling tax revenue, the city expects a shortfall of more than $400 million over the next five years, according to City Manager Betsy Fretwell.

On Wednesday, Fretwell told the City Council about the plan to make the salary and benefit cuts and the council approved the plan, which she said would save about $3 million. The council approved the plan, contingent on the labor unions going along with it.

"The folks who agreed to the 8 percent reductions, they did so voluntarily," Goodman said today. "They got together, they voted on certain proposals and that was the bottom line. That was critical to us, because I think it set the standard as to what is the right thing to do."

Their pay cuts and other concessions would go into effect July 1 — but only if the four labor unions representing the city's other employees do the same, Goodman said.

"We can't force somebody who has a contract to change the contract," Goodman said. "... The only way we're going to be able to resolve the issue, in my opinion, is to cajole and convince those who are working for us under contracts that they should open up the contracts and do whatever they can to make sure that somebody who is lower down in the employment totem pole will be able to keep their job."

If the unions don't make concessions and the city can't balance its budget, then layoffs will continue.

"We have no choice other than to lay off," he said. "And that's a sad way of doing business, but that's the way the law is."

Goodman noted that over the years, the collective bargaining process has "created a monster."

When the city and the unions couldn't agree, they went to arbitration, he said. During those years, the city wasn't able to show its ability to pay, which was irrelevant to the arbitrators, who sided with the employees in raising salaries and benefits, Goodman said.

"From the moment I was elected, I was told by smart people in the finance department that there would come a time when income will not meet expenses," Goodman said. "We never dreamed that it would be now."

Goodman said he was interested in resolving the budget problems in a way that is "smart" and "nice."

"But it takes two to tango and let's see if we're going to tango," he said.

Goodman said union leaders have invited him to sit in on two meetings next week by one of the unions, so he can report back to the City Council.

Asked about a deadline for making the concessions, Goodman said the city is now "in a state of exigency at this point."

Every month for the last two years, the consolidated tax revenue that feeds the city's budget has been taking double-digit hits from the year before, he said.

"It's not going to have a happy ending," he said. "It can't have a happy ending because people will be hurt along the way, either by reductions in what they've been taking home, or by losing their job. We'll see how it plays out. I'll try to be as fair as I can be."

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