Firefighters file complaint against county officials

Clark County managers violated collective bargaining rules when they disbanded the heavy rescue and hazardous material teams and now should restore the units, the firefighters union argued in a complaint to the state labor board.

Union leaders said when the county dismantled the teams in July and transferred the duties to neighboring cities, most of the 40 county firefighters who were reassigned took a pay cut.

Managers can trim staffing and reassign employees, but the labor pact requires they bargain before cutting pay, union officials said in the complaint.

The grievance was filed with the Local Government Employee-Management Relations Board as the county and its firefighters union grapple in arbitration.

The complaint accuses county officials of deliberately scrapping teams staffed heavily with union leaders. That includes Ryan Beaman, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 1908.

The aim was to retaliate against "the union's repeated and visible opposition to certain county commissioners' desires to cut firefighter compensation and also to coerce the outcome over a new agreement," the complaint states.

County Manager Virginia Valentine issued a terse rebuttal.

"The county believes the complaint is completely without merit," she wrote.

Commissioner Steve Sisolak, a vocal critic of firefighters' compensation, questioned the timing.

Union leaders might be trying to influence arbitration with this public grievance, he said. If not, why didn't they file a complaint in July when the units were dissolved?

"I'm disappointed that they resorted to these types of tactics rather than deal with the real problems," Sisolak said. "The county can't afford to pay the exorbitant wages and benefits they are getting."

In an e-mail, Beaman said the gripe is not about firefighters receiving less money. It's about losing crews that respond to disasters and rescue people from high-rise structures, wrecked cars and floodwaters, he said.

"Southern Nevada residents have been put at risk for far too long because of this ill-conceived plan," Beaman said. "We are now taking the appropriate steps to reinstate one of the most important pieces of lifesaving equipment the county has at their disposal."

The union is not asking for any back pay, he said.

An estimated $5.5 million was saved when the specialty teams were disbanded, and the firefighters were diverted to a relief staff to reduce overtime pay.

Commissioner Tom Collins, a firefighter advocate, disagreed with the union accusing the county of retaliation.

"Do we buy Ryan a big box of tissue?" Collins said.

Diverting the responsibilities to the cities wasn't ideal, Collins said, noting that some slower response times have been logged because city firefighters sometimes must travel a greater distance.

But the union refused a proposal to reduce staffing at the two stations that housed the specialty teams, giving the county no choice but to disband them to save money, Collins said.

"It was evaluating the safety of the community and taking care of the budget," Collins said.

Contact reporter Scott Wyland at swyland@review or 702-455-4519.