Clark County commissioners ratified the labor contract Tuesday with its firefighters union, though not before one commissioner argued that the pay cuts should be retroactive.
An arbitrator on Jan. 19 chose the county's final contract offer over firefighters' terms, a decision that could save taxpayers as much as $7.4 million for the year.
The new contract runs from July 2010 to July of this year. It includes a 2 percent pay cut for firefighters, no wage increases, a reduction in long-term disability benefits and a tougher sick leave policy.
Commissioner Steve Sisolak contends that state law calls for an arbitration award to begin when the last labor contract expired. That means the reduced pay should begin in July 2010, he said.
"I've read the statute, and it is retroactive," Sisolak said before the meeting.
Retroactive salary cuts would have required the firefighters to repay the county some of the money they have received in the past seven months.
County counsel Mary-Anne Miller countered that the overall contract will start in July 2010, but not all the provisions, including the pay cuts, must begin then.
In the past, pay raises sometimes were put off for a year or two after a contract was sealed, Miller said. Likewise, the county and firefighters union have the leeway to begin the pay reductions after this new contract is ratified, she said.
Sisolak said this is the first time that anyone can remember firefighters taking a pay cut. In the past, when bargaining was drawn out, they always got pay raises retroactively, he said.
He asked who might sue the county on behalf of taxpayers.
Miller replied that perhaps someone representing a group of citizens.
"He can knock himself out," she said.
Ryan Beaman, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 1908, said county officials never brought up retroactive pay cuts in arbitration.
If they had, the union would have opposed the idea, Beaman said.
Despite his objections, Sisolak joined commissioners in voting 6-1 for the contract.
Commissioner Tom Collins cast the dissenting vote, arguing that the same savings could have been achieved by trimming benefits, such as longevity pay, instead of reducing firefighters' regular pay.
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