Las Vegas firefighters on Wednesday became the second of the city's four bargaining units to finalize a labor deal with the city, with the City Council voting 5-1 to approve a new contract containing a mix of cuts and reduced raises.
The package is expected to help the city save $6.5 million over the next two fiscal years, with the bulk of that amount -- $5.6 million -- being realized in fiscal 2011, which started July 1.
City marshals previously negotiated a deal with the city.
Neither pact reached the original goal set by city leaders and pushed by Mayor Oscar Goodman: a freeze on all scheduled raises coupled with an 8 percent cut in compensation in 2011 and 2012.
"Even if it didn't meet our goal ... it is the first step, I believe, toward changing the way people think about government compensation," Goodman said Wednesday.
"The main thing today is the citizens are protected," said Dean Fletcher, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 1285.
Councilman Stavros Anthony voted against the measure. He told fellow council members that he was "disturbed" by one aspect of the deal, the city's concession that it will not seek studies of privatizing emergency medical services for the next two years.
The city should be able to study anything it wants, Anthony said.
He also worried that the concession would set a precedent at a time when Las Vegas is studying privatization as well as consolidation of some government services with other local governments.
"I don't know what the outcome of an ambulance study would be," Anthony said. The agreement "basically dictates to the organization what they can or can't study."
Goodman countered that the "no study" clause was not in the labor contract but in a "side letter" that doesn't set a precedent.
The new contract contains benefit cuts and the elimination of expected raises.
There will be no cost-of-living raise this year. The firefighters' previous contract called for a 3.5 percent increase.
Step raises, which average about 5 percent a year, will be cut in half for the next two years, and the starting salary for new employees will be cut by 5 percent. A city firefighter's base pay now is $44,947 to $77,602 a year.
Uniform allowances have been eliminated for a year. The city will cut what it contributes to medical insurance, an amount that will be added to the employee contribution firefighters already make. A payment to EMS employees for filling out paperwork will be phased out.
Las Vegas will increase the number of "roving" positions to limit overtime.
City officials said the savings will eliminate the need for planned "brownouts" in which a few units are taken out of service for a day.
Firefighters ratified the contract in voting that was completed Tuesday night. The council and the city's marshals previously agreed to a $900,000 deal in which the marshals gave up step and cost-of-living raises in 2011 and accepted 4 percent pay cuts.
Two other bargaining units -- the Las Vegas City Employee Association and the Las Vegas Peace Officers Association -- have discussed concessions with city leaders but have not reached deals.
The economic downturn badly damaged city revenues, forcing cuts in programs, hiring freezes and, eventually, layoffs.
City officials said many layoffs could have been avoided if workers had agreed to the 8 percent reductions.
The deals reached with city marshals and firefighters don't reach that goal. The city sought $8.8 million in cuts from firefighters and $1.1 million from the marshals.
"I believe that it's as close as we can get at this time," said Mayor Pro Tem Gary Reese.
Still, the city and the bargaining units need to keep talking because the financial picture is not improving and more cuts might be needed next year, he said.
Contact reporter Alan Choate at achoate@review journal.com or 702-229-6435.