Clark County union members stress social services

Dire times have inspired Clark County's union workers to take action.

They packed an auditorium Tuesday in a sea of purple T-shirts while union leaders read to the County Commission a list of workers' suggestions on how to avoid cutting services and jobs.

"We came here with a very important purpose," said Al Martinez, president of Service Employees International Union Local 1107. "Save social services. Commissioners, I would say we're in the middle of a storm."

About 150 workers from 20 county departments divided into a dozen focus groups to brainstorm about how to save money and drum up funding to save services, said Mike Ward, an SEIU researcher. They came up with 300 suggestions, which the union winnowed to 10, Ward said.

Topping the list was a recommendation to transfer money from a capital improvement reserve, known as Fund 437, to pay for social programs on the verge of being slashed.

Next on the list, workers suggested miscellaneous cost-cutting, such as reducing printed documents and shifting to green technology.

Workers also thought the county should use fewer consultants and subcontractors and cut some management jobs. Many also supported voluntary unpaid furloughs, shifting the work week to four 10-hour days and letting workers quit with severance pay.

Commissioner Rory Reid praised their effort and their decision three months ago to reduce their cost-of-living raises to 1 percent from 3 percent.

"I think we're all making sacrifices here, but we're not done," Reid said. "I think this is going to continue to be a difficult time."

As many expected, the union's push to divert money from a capital fund to pay for services generated the most dialogue and questions among commissioners.

Union officials said last year's fund shows $479 million, of which the county appears to have at least $244 million at its disposal. The fund has produced as much as $39 million in interest, which could be used on social services, Martinez said.

Reid argued that the matter is not so clear-cut.

"There's all these numbers being thrown around about how much money there is," Reid said. He agreed the county could forgo some projects to save some services.

County Manager Virginia Valentine told commissioners she could provide accurate, up-to-date figures on the fund within two weeks. That report will include a breakdown of money that is available and money that is tied up in partially finished projects, Valentine said.

Commissioner Steve Sisolak questioned how a fund of $400 million could generate $35 million-plus in interest. That would require an interest rate of 8 percent on a savings account, he said.

County Comptroller Ed Finger replied that the union was probably seeing a gross amount rather than the net interest.

A few commissioners said they must look hard at slashing jobs that are redundant or have outlived their purpose.

Some capital money can be funneled to services, but not the lion's share, Commissioner Larry Brown said. Part of government's role is to install sewers, roads, parks and other amenities, he said.

The county cannot neglect infrastructure to save jobs that are no longer needed, Brown said. "There has to be a balance."

Responding to workers' suggestion that management is top-heavy, Brown said he wanted to see a chart showing how many managers were hired during the county's boom years.

"This is one that's thrown out there without any facts to back it," he said.

Commissioner Lawrence Weekly said he would like to know as soon as possible how much capital money can be used to help those in need.

"Let's save some lives, and we can do without a park," he said.

Contact reporter Scott Wyland at or 702-455-4519.