Las Vegas Sun

October 21, 2014

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Bill would ban firefighter union leave at taxpayer expense

Steve Sisolak

Steve Sisolak

Sen. Michael Roberson

Sen. Michael Roberson

Relentless in his criticism of county firefighters over sick leave and overtime pay, Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak is again on the attack, this time seeking to curtail taxpayer spending that compensates firefighters for conducting union business.

A bill in the Legislature would advance that fight by banning the use of taxpayer money to support union activity on behalf of any local government worker in Nevada. But a top union official says that idea lacks merit because the private sector also compensates employees for union business.

Figures provided to Sisolak by county staff showed that taxpayers spent $974,967 from 2006 through 2010 to reimburse the base pay of county firefighters who took leaves of absence to attend arbitration sessions, meetings and other union functions. Factoring in the time-and-a-half in overtime paid to firefighters who replaced those on union leave, Sisolak said the cost to taxpayers is considerably higher.

The county’s contract with International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1908 permits such compensation. But Sisolak said he wants the new contract, which is being negotiated, to direct the union to compensate firefighters for union leave rather than have taxpayers pick up the tab.

That’s because the way it works now, Sisolak said, taxpayers are footing the bill for both sides of labor negotiations between the county and the union.

“The taxpayer is paying for the county to represent the county and is also paying for the union to represent the union,” he said. “That doesn’t seem fair. I’m in favor of collective bargaining, but I don’t think taxpayers should pay for it.”

County records furnished by Sisolak show that over the past five years, 80 firefighters took 22,672 hours of leave for union business. Sisolak said he was “quite honestly shocked” not only by the amount of taxpayer money spent on union leave but also by the number of firefighters who have been compensated. He said this is markedly different from unions that represent Metro Police and other county employees, where a much smaller number of workers is typically compensated by taxpayers for union leave.

Much of the union leave is for conferences. In 2010, leave included:

• Eight firefighters taking 109 hours of leave Jan. 27-29 for the International Affiliate Leadership Training Summit in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

• Seven firefighters taking 312 hours of leave March 14-22 for the International Association of Fire Fighters Legislative Conference in Washington.

• Seven firefighters taking 304 hours of leave Aug. 21-27 for the union’s 50th Biennial Convention in San Diego.

Calls seeking response from union President Ryan Beaman weren’t returned.

But Rusty McAllister, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Nevada, said union leave is a negotiated benefit that results from collective bargaining between the union and the county. He said the union typically has to make concessions to get benefits such as paid union leave.

“Collective bargaining is a two-sided process, and whenever employees get a benefit, they often have to give up something in return,” McAllister said.

McAllister said he didn’t know the financial effect it would have on the firefighters union if it had to pay for union leave. But he said unions in general could be vulnerable if an employer filed a large number of employee grievances that the unions would have to defend.

Danny Thompson, Nevada AFL-CIO executive secretary, said having taxpayers compensate public employees for union leave is no different from what happens in the private sector. He said it is common for private-sector employers to compensate shop stewards who take time off for union activity, such as representing other employees in disciplinary hearings.

That argument is one reason unions can be expected to be vocal about Senate Bill 342, introduced Monday by Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas.

The bill, referred to the Senate Legislative Operations and Elections Committee, would exclude all local government department heads and other administrative and supervisory employees from being members of union bargaining units. SB342 also would give local government employees the option to decide whether they want to pay union dues.

Sisolak said he has not decided whether to support the bill. But Roberson said he discussed the legislation with the commissioner, including the provision that would prohibit use of taxpayer money to compensate local government employees for union activity.

“To me it’s a no-brainier,” Roberson said. “If the unions want to conduct union activity, the unions should pay for that, not the taxpayers.”

But Thompson said SB342, which is co-sponsored by six Senate Republicans and no Democrats, is another example of “the right wing of the Republican Party going against the middle class.”

Sisolak is a Democrat.

Thompson called SB342 a diversion “from the real problem, which is we have a broken tax system and they’re trying to blame collective bargaining.”

“The problem is that this state needs to find ways to fund education,” he said.

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  1. Sounds likes the jig is up for the Firefighter and the Firefighter Union. Fleecing the public is the apparent practice of a large group of Firefighter and the Firefighter Union.

    What is needed at this point is a person in the Fire Department, from top or bottom of the ranks, to come out and tell the truth!!! In other words, we need an honest Firefighter to show integrity and courage to step forward and be the voice for the whole department. The bad apples must be replaced, a new way of doing business at the Fire Department must start immediately!

    Is there anyone of integrity and honesty in the Fire Department that will come forward? We cannot even remotely think anyone from the Firefighter Union would come forward.

    The Fire Department employees must fix this problem, internally!!! So who will come forward? Who will start the healing? Is there anyone of integrity in the department? If not, one has to wonder what kind of families and households are being run by these individuals.

  2. Steve needs to run for senate. We need some logic there.

  3. To HumbleFireman,

    Great response! Now make it public and speak out in response to Commissioner Sisolak. Are you the one person in the department who will speak out to protect the innocense firefighters who are not engaged in fleecing the system? There obviously is a problem!

    Remaining silent will not make the problem go away. Come out and be heard! Will you come forward and speak for the Department?

  4. One more example of how the unions abuse the citizens. Taxpayers are required to pay for union reps who go to regional meetings where not firefighting business or training is conducted but to collaborate with other unions and share information on how to negotiate and stage contract negotiations. And all at tax payer expense.

    In other areas of business this is called collusion.

    Unions must be required to pay for their own training. That's what their dues are for, not for political campaign contributions. If firefighters want to keep the right to collectively bargain, they better get control themselves and THEIR UNION and force union members and leadership to conduct business properly and honestly.

    The day of riding the golden goose until it collapses are gone. It has. There IS NO MORE MONEY, it's all been spent for decades to come. The golden goose is dead and the union and it's members killed it.

  5. Hey guys, Just stay tight and stick together, sounds like Sisolak is just trying to scare you into squealing against each other. Stick to your (Binding) contract and everything WILL be all right!!

  6. Another biased story by the Las Vegas Sun.
    Are the firefighters the only employees that use union business leave?
    I doubt it.
    Another attack piece choreographed by Sisolak using the cover of a Sun reporter provided an office in the county government building.
    Schoenmann must be on a paid vacation.
    Steve I want my $21 million of taxpayers money BACK you won in a lawsuit against clark county.

  7. What a waste of taxpayer funds and the unions should be ashamed of themselves for sucking off the taxpayers for allowing such terms to be included in the agreement. What is ever sicker is that the public employee's allowed such to be included in the contract in the first place.

    In the private industry when the union stewards or any employee attends any form of meeting that isn't directly related to company business, no payment of services is paid. Paying their wages use to occur many years ago when the unions used to serve a useful and functional purpose, and their members were qualified to perform the work which they're dispatched to perform.

    The unions over the past decade or so have succumbed to the mindset where as long as the person was breathing and able to write the union's initiation check and pay their monthly union dues in advance then that person is considered qualified and membership allowed. The union then forces the employer to weed through the waiting list and paying show up times, we can go through as many as 50 people before a single one is qualified to perform the work.

    I suspect the union will continue their fight to keep the golden goose paying into their lottery system and when it is all said and done, they'll succumb to concession enabling their union leaders to continue to suck off the backs of the members.

    If you truly want to be a paramedic or fire fighter then it shouldn't be about how much you can screw over the taxpayers for making your income, it isn't about the money when you choose this career path, it's supposed be about giving back to the community and do what is right. You've lost sight what being a public servant is all about, you don't do it for the money; you do it because you have your own money and public service is giving back or you're doing it because it's about helping others.