Firing all Las Vegas city employees and rehiring them to work fewer hours would mean "death by a thousand cuts" for the city, Mayor Oscar Goodman said Monday, adding he was disappointed that his solution to the city's budget woes proved unworkable.
"We have the authority to lay off employees when finances dictate, but we cannot place terms on rehiring them without going through the collective bargaining process," Goodman said at a hastily called news conference in his office.
"If in fact I continued on the course of action which I suggested, I could very well be putting the city in a position of real jeopardy," he said.
That brings the city back to eliminating 191 positions, including 146 layoffs, to help make ends meet in the face of an expected $70 million budget shortfall for the budget year that starts July 1.
The job cuts represent a little less than half of the shortfall, with the remainder coming from reserves and some revenue increases.
Layoff notices already have gone out to affected employees. The city has about 3,000 workers.
City leadership had asked the four bargaining units that represent most city workers to forgo all raises and accept 8 percent pay cuts in each of the next two fiscal years as a way to avoid layoffs. All of the units must agree to the cuts to avoid layoffs, Goodman has said.
"They didn't budge, and they should've," he said. "They weren't engaged at the table.
"It looks like they're going to go through the collective bargaining process as the law provides them the opportunity to do and will not make the concessions that save the jobs of their colleagues. And that makes me sick," he said.
Chris Collins, executive director of the Police Protective Association, which represents city marshals, pointed the finger of blame right back at the city.
The union offered some reductions to the city that Collins says are enough to save four marshals in line to be cut. The city hasn't responded, he said.
"If any marshal gets laid off, it's not because the union was unbending," Collins said. "It's because the mayor was unbending.
"They've had this all-or-nothing attitude ... they're really not negotiating."
As for Goodman's proposal, Collins said his organization's attorneys "very quickly came to the conclusion that it couldn't be done."
"I think he knew it was illegal the day he said it," Collins said. "I think he just tried to put the fear into his employees."
Don King, head of the Las Vegas City Employees Association, also said the mayor's decision was not a surprise.
"We actually told him that right after he said it in the council meeting," King said. "I'm glad we don't have to fight things out in a court battle."
The situation is still ugly, though, and King blamed city leaders for demanding cuts without offering any protections to the bargaining units that take them.
The City Employees Association has already lost employees to layoffs, and more than 100 of the current round of 146 are members, King said.
"There are some members out there who don't want to give the city anything. I've got others who are a little more willing," he said. "Even if we give everything, there's probably going to be some layoffs. It makes it really difficult."
Goodman proposed his solution at a budget hearing last week, saying he was inspired by San Francisco's mayor, Gavin Newsom, who ordered mass terminations. Employees and unions there have vowed to fight that plan.
Before trying to implement it in Las Vegas, Goodman asked the city attorney and two private attorneys about the move's legality.
He said the answer was that individual employees could fight the city through arbitration, a lengthy and expensive process when the city is facing deadlines and budgets already in the red.
Contact reporter Alan Choate at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-229-6435.