County, SEIU talks hit roadblock


Negotiations between Clark County officials and the Service Employees International Union stalled Thursday afternoon.

County officials declared an impasse during their sixth bargaining session after union officials refused to give up longevity pay for new hires and accept a deal similar to one reached earlier this week with the Las Vegas Police Protective Association.

The county offered the union a 1 percent increase in merit pay for the first year and a 3 percent increase for the second year. The county also proposed the elimination of longevity pay, a slight increase in pay offered to employees after eight years of service.

In turn, the union proposed freezing cost-of-living adjustments for one year, adding a 1.5 percent increase for the second year, and keeping longevity pay.

County officials said an increase in the cost-of-living adjustment would increase the wage scale, which would cost the county even more.

In an email to the County Commission, Ed Finger, assistant county manager, wrote that the county "has requested that the parties proceed directly to binding fact-finding and bypass mediation in order to achieve timely resolution."

County administrators have complained the union representatives can only meet every three to four weeks.

"We are currently four months past the expiration of the previous contract," Finger wrote.

Al Martinez, president of the county's largest public employees union, said he walked away from the bargaining session "perplexed."

"When we started this whole process, I thought it had to do with the county being in dire financial deficit," Martinez said. "Today it was quite evident it wasn't really about money. All this motion was about longevity pay. It wasn't really about monetary benefits or cost savings."

A recent study by the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce found that the state's public workers were the ninth-highest paid nationwide, receiving average annual pay of $56,872 in 2009. That is 13 percent higher than the national average of $50,187. But the study found that Nevada ranked last in the number of public workers per capita, with 43.6 for every 1,000 residents in 2009.

SEIU represents public employees at McCarran International Airport, the Department of Family Services, the Regional Transportation Commission, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and the Southern Nevada Health District, among other agencies.

Erik Pappa, county spokesman, said the county spends $35 million each year on longevity pay. Seven other unions have agreed to eliminate the benefit for new hires.

"Everyone on the planet is eliminating that benefit," Pappa said. "It doesn't serve any purpose. The original intent of longevity pay was to recruit and retain employees, but there's no one to recruit. It's a complete giveaway.

"The county gets absolutely nothing in return. Every union in Southern Nevada except SEIU understands that apparently."

Finger has previously said 70 percent of the union members receive a 4 percent merit increase each year on their anniversary. The other 30 percent are at the top of their pay range and no longer receive the increase. However, once employees reach eight years of service, they receive a 0.57 percent longevity pay increase for every year of service.

A date will be scheduled for the fact-finding and mediation process, Martinez said.

County administrators said union members received average total salary increases of 12.6 percent since 2009, even after concessions. That number, which could reach 15 percent by the end of the fiscal year, will continue to rise until union and county officials come to an agreement.

At the start of the month, county officials filed a complaint with the Local Government Employee Management Relations Board to compel the union to meet more regularly with county officials and "begin bargaining in good faith" toward a new contract.

The board has not yet acted on the complaint.

Contact reporter Kristi Jourdan at kjourdan@reviewjournal.com or 455-4519.

 

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