If Las Vegas can't get the desired wage concessions out of its employee unions, the city should simply fire everyone and offer to rehire them to work a shorter workweek, Mayor Oscar Goodman said Wednesday.
"I'm trying to save jobs. I really am," Goodman said. "If it's a strong-arm tactic, so be it.
"If it's legal, I'm going to propose it to the council. I think it's the only way we're going to save jobs."
Goodman ordered the city attorney to study the possibility.
The idea didn't go over well with the unions. Several union presidents went so far as to call the mayor a bully. Councilman Ricki Barlow also said he disagreed with the mayor.
There are 146 people's jobs on the chopping block right now as the city prepares for the 2011 fiscal year, which starts July 1.
The City Council approved a preliminary budget plan Wednesday containing layoffs and service cuts that aren't as severe as what was initially proposed.
There was extra money in the Fire Department's budget to stave off layoffs, and a community push to salvage programs at the Reed Whipple Cultural Center worked -- at the expense of an extreme sports program the city runs.
The city faces a $70 million budget hole to fill and most likely a $40 million deficit in the next fiscal year, and the proposed solution to that hasn't changed. All employees, Goodman said, should forgo their scheduled raises and accept 8 percent pay cuts in each of the next two years.
Under his fire-and-rehire plan, a new 37.5-hour workweek would trim costs 6.25 percent, and a 36-hour week would cut costs 10 percent, he said.
"I've never been as severely disappointed as this situation has caused me to be," Goodman said about the unions being unwilling to open their contracts and accept needed changes.
The disappointment was mutual.
"I think you're being a bully," said Chris Collins, executive director of the Police Protective Association, which represents city marshals. He argued that his union had made a "meaningful offer" to reduce personnel costs.
"I take great disrespect from your comments," Collins said. "You quite simply slapped us in the face today and said, 'No thanks. We'll lay you off.'"
Firefighter union President Dean Fletcher also accused Goodman of making a "bully move."
"I don't want to fight with you, but I think that motion by you was off the wall," Fletcher said.
For employees, it's a choice between keeping current labor contracts, which include annual raises, and seeing some people lose jobs completely, or accepting pay cuts that keep more people working -- for less money.
The membership of the Las Vegas City Employees Association, the largest of the four city unions, is divided on the question, union President Don King said. Some are loath to concede anything to the city, while others are willing to make a deal. A survey of the association's membership should be ready next week, he said.
Collins said an 8 percent pay cut would put his members into bankruptcy and foreclosure. He accused the city of negotiating in bad faith if it won't accept anything else.
Tracy Valenzuela, head of the Peace Officers Association, which represents city detention center workers, argued that her members are already the lowest-paid law enforcement agency in the valley. Like other bargaining units, they've accepted a reduction in pay raises and had to reduce overtime, and with fewer employees, the job of supervising inmates is already taking a mental toll, she said.
Goodman also called for a study of whether the city should privatize its ambulance services, noting that his fire-them-all approach isn't applicable to public safety employees.
Fletcher didn't think much of that idea either.
"You will lose your ISO Class 1," he said, referring to the city's good insurance rating. "You will lose the city money in the long run."
The council's vote Wednesday wasn't binding. It directed city management to do certain things as the staff prepares a preliminary budget that's due next month.
One direction was to restore in part the funding for Reed Whipple, which was scheduled to be closed.
People protested, urging the city to let the center remain the home of the Rainbow Youth Theater Company, the Las Vegas Youth Orchestra and the Legacy Band.
The council agreed, although the recommendation to do so states the orchestra and the band will continue to look for new homes.
The city also will not cut two of its "rapid response" teams, which answer reports of graffiti and code violations. A northwest substation for city marshals also was saved.
Some of the funding for those items will come from $188,000 allocated to an extreme sports program, which has BMX, motocross, in-line skating and skateboarding activities.
Council members also backed a pilot program directing city marshals to track down people with unpaid city warrants. It would be staffed with six marshals and four support personnel.
Money collected from warrants would cover the unit's costs, and projections call for it to generate an additional $500,000, or more.
"I think at the end of the day that's very conservative," Councilman Steve Ross said.
In all, the budget cuts 191 positions, some of which are vacant.
The city also plans to generate money through increased fees for Safekey; leagues and tournaments; warrant processing; additional EMS transports; and a proposed new fee on news racks.
Contact reporter Alan Choate at email@example.com or 702-229-6435.