Las Vegas officials push gainsharing to keep lid on firefighters wages


Las Vegas city officials seeking to keep a lid on firefighter wages and benefits are pushing for a novel pay system that lets employees share the proceeds of cost savings, as opposed to basing salary increases on guaranteed raises.

The proposal, called gainsharing, was part of a presentation Wednesday for the Las Vegas City Council and was one of the issues behind an impasse between city management and the firefighters union.

In addition to talk about gainsharing, which has gone nowhere with the union, city officials are trying to keep labor expenses flat in the upcoming two-year contract because they say costs of the new city hall and a potential increase for Las Vegas police will stretch city finances.

The firefighters' final proposal before the impasse was declared was $12.3 million higher over the course of the two-year contract than what city officials are prepared to pay.

"I don't know that we could ever return to that lucrative of a program," said Human Resources Director Dan Tarwater of the automatic pay rate increases firefighters want restored after years of labor concessions. "If we have excess profits, we would like to share that."

The city called for an impasse declaration in negotiations last week after differences emerged on several issues.

According to the presentation by Tarwater, the firefighters are seeking raises based on the consumer price index, the return of full step pay increases, an extension of holiday hours, an increase in the amount of allowable sick leave accrual and medical contributions of $475 per worker each pay period.

The city's latest offer includes no cost of living pay increases, a 50 percent reduction in maximum sick leave accrual, a $400 per worker per pay period medical contribution and elimination of longevity pay for new employees.

The city's 2013 budget includes about $96 million in salaries, wages and employee benefits for the Fire Department.

If the collective bargaining process drives the cost up beyond the budgeted amount, it could mean cuts elsewhere or even layoffs, said Candace Falder, director of the department of finance.

"Other things would have to suffer," she said.

Dean Fletcher, president of International Association of Firefighters Local 1285, wasn't at the meeting but in a letter to Tarwater on Tuesday said firefighters are willing to continue negotiating a resolution.  "First, I want to make it very clear, that we are available to resume negotiations at anytime with the City of Las Vegas," Fletcher wrote.

Asked about the city's introduction of gainsharing into the negotiations, a representative for the firefighters said it was too early for them to have a position on the issue.

Former Clark County Manager Thom Reilly, who recently wrote a book called "Rethinking Public Sector Compensation," replacing guaranteed raises with performance-related bonuses would be good for taxpayers and many employees.

"When you have compensation based on performance, there is evidence that suggests it leads to better performance," Reilly said. "I really applaud them for attempting to implement this." 

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0285.