Visitor authority approves raises in new union contract

After expressing concerns about the cost of pay raises in coming years, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority board voted 6-4 Tuesday to approve a contract with the Service Employees International Union.

By approving the agreement, the board of directors went against the recommendation of its own compensation committee.

Directors Tom Collins, Lawrence Weekly, Carolyn Goodman, Andy Hafen, Steve Ross and Cam Walker voted for the contract.

George Rapson, Paul Chakmak, Kristin McMillan and Tom Jenkin voted against it.

New director John Caparella, president and CEO of The Venetian, Palazzo and Sands Expo, abstained. Absent were compensation committee member Chuck Bowling and Greg Lee. North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee hasn’t yet been sworn in to the board.

Caparella replaced Scott Nielson of Station Casinos as the latter’s term expired. Nielson was one of the three compensation committee members who previously opposed the contract, along with Bowling and McMillan.

Collective bargaining negotiations began Feb. 4, and 95 percent of the union membership ratified the agreement June 11.

Among the 17 amended articles of the approved agreement were across-the-board annual pay increases of 3 percent through fiscal 2015, 2.5 percent through fiscal 2017, and 2 percent in fiscal 2018. The total impact of the increases is $2.75 million.

Over the next five years, the authority expects to pay about $135 million in employee expenses related to the contract for items that include wages, pay increases, Medicare and health insurance.

Goodman said both sides of the argument had merit, and while the five-year term did give her pause, she supported the full increases for union employees.

“In any job you’re only as good as your team,” she said.

The authority’s president and CEO, Rossi Ralenkotter, said hiring freezes, furloughs and layoffs can be employed in the event of another recession, which he doesn’t see happening.

Karla Nolan, an SEIU steward on the bargaining committee, told the board members that when they don’t give raises to the “rank and file,” they’re hurting their own businesses because people stop going out and spending discretionary income.

“I’m all for increases to the rank-and-file people who make this city run,” Chakmak responded. “I’m just extremely challenged by the rate of the increase.”

Jenkin echoed Chakmak’s concerns, saying that associated costs, such as health care, can easily escalate in a contract such as this.

McMillan was careful to express respect for the convention authority staff and employees but said she still has legitimate concerns, including the contract length and a clause that allows it to remain in effect until a successor agreement is reached.

“These types of evergreen clauses aren’t favored in this day and age of collective bargaining agreements,” she said.

She also called the longevity pay included in the contract “outdated and antiquated.”

The authority’s vice president of human resources, Mark Olson, previously said the board follows state law and seeks to be in line with other local government agencies. Recently, the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District settled a contract with annual pay increases set at 3 percent for the next three years.

The union bargaining unit consists of 316 employees who work in positions such as building engineer, accounting technician, fire prevention coordinator and security officer. In total, the convention authority employs 484 people.

The new contract goes into effect immediately and runs through June 30, 2018.

Contact reporter Laura Carroll at lcarroll@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4588. Follow @lscvegas on Twitter.