The high cost of unreal pay raises

How much is a “real” pay raise? Apparently, not 4 percent.

Last month, the Service Employees International Union Local 1107, the bargaining unit that represents rank-and-file Clark County employees, flatly rejected a contract that would have given most of its members a 4 percent pay raise, half of which would be retroactive to six months ago. The union wants much more.

A “bargaining update” flier sent to members at the end of August says the sides “are far apart” and the union wants terms to “make employees whole.” The flier reads, in part: “We worked with the County to ensure quality services continued while the County recovered. Now we are fighting for a real raise that gives working families a way to recover from years of sacrifice.”

And I thought President Barack Obama was guilty of revisionist history.

How do you make whole workers who’ve enjoyed a net 10 percent pay raise through the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression? How does that qualify as “sacrifice” when the wages of Nevada’s private-sector workers have been flat since 2008? And what amount would satisfy the union’s demands for a “real” raise at the expense of taxpayers who can’t expect any bump in pay?

I asked Mayra Ocampo, SEIU Nevada’s director of government affairs, to explain.

“Our members in the county have indeed made sacrifices, for several years, when our county was hardest hit by the national economic downward spiral,” she wrote in an email. “We opened our contract with the county and made concessions, even when there was no need on our part to do so. The aforementioned sacrifices have included cost of living adjustments and layoffs. … As for what constitutes a real raise that is only a question solely our Bargaining Team and our members can answer and will do so when they agree at the end of our negotiations with the county.”

So accepting a smaller pay raise is a sacrifice? It’s interesting that Ocampo believes the union didn’t need to make concessions while acknowledging the unit sustained layoffs. The very pay raises the SEIU collected over the years and refused to give up caused the job losses the union is attempting to use as bargaining leverage. And now the union wants its biggest pay raise in years.

I asked Ocampo to explain that disconnect. She didn’t respond.

The raise the SEIU refused to present to members would have provided a 2 percent COLA and a 2 percent merit raise retroactive to Feb. 18, even though the SEIU’s current contract freezes merit raises until February 2014. In return, the union was asked to end “longevity” raises for future hires. Those raises give employees an annual 0.57 percent pay bump for every year of service at eight years and beyond.

Every county bargaining group, save the SEIU and Fire Department battalion chiefs, has surrendered longevity pay for future hires, as have other municipal unions around the valley.

“We should protect longevity pay for our future co-workers, not be distracted by what could happen in 2021,” the union’s flier says. Who cares about the burdens of future taxpayers! More for us!

According to, more than 1,800 county workers received at least $100,000 in total compensation last year (some non-SEIU members are included in those figures).

In reality, the union’s existing members have made no sacrifices at all. It’s the union itself that has made sacrifices — by sacrificing members in exchange for pay raises. About 1,000 county jobs have been eliminated in recent years, a few hundred through layoffs. The SEIU is trying to work this same magic in the fast-food industry, demanding that workers be allowed to unionize and receive wages of $15 an hour — a 100 percent pay raise for some restaurant employees. As if that kind of raise wouldn’t cost jobs.

Welcome to the rigged game of public-sector collective bargaining, where raises aren’t real — and you always pay more.

Happy Labor Day.

Glenn Cook ( is the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s senior editorial writer. Follow him on Twitter: @Glenn_CookNV. Listen to him Mondays at 4 p.m. on “Live and Local with Kevin Wall” on KXNT News Radio, 100.5 FM, 840 AM.

Review-Journal political columnist Steve Sebelius will return Wednesday.