During a time when other local government agencies are going through tumultuous union negotiations to balance tight budgets, the Regional Transportation Commission penned an "unprecedented" contract with its workers that offers cost-of-living increases and merit and longevity pay.
Commissioners postponed voting Thursday on a five-year contract with Service Employees International Union employees, citing concerns about the fairness of offering those perks when other local entities have cut them.
"If you took the contract and presented it and superimposed it on what's happened the last two years, there is a tremendous discrepancy," said Clark County Commissioner Larry Brown, who serves as the chairman of the transit board. "It's nice to say the RTC is in a better position, but that's not a reason to start raising wages and benefits."
This is the first contract negotiated by RTC officials; its employees previously were represented by the SEIU unit that negotiates for Clark County.
The deal is expected to save the agency $1.3 million over five years, said Jerry Keating, the RTC's assistant general manager.
The proposed contract includes:
■ Cost-of-living raises. Employees won't receive a cost-of-living increase the first year. The increase in the final four years will be based on a three-year average of the Western Consumer Price Index instead of the national CPI.
■ Longevity pay. These would be suspended for a year. New employees would be eligible for longevity benefits after eight years. These would be three-tenths of 1 percent of their annual salary, about half the last contract. Employees will no longer be able to accrue sick leave for large payout checks when they leave.
■ Merit pay. Only employees who are deemed proficient on their evaluations would be eligible for merit pay, which would be linked to sales tax revenue, the primary funding source for the Regional Transportation Commission. If the annual sales tax revenue does not increase by 3.5 percent, no employee will get merit pay. Larger revenue increases would trigger merit pay of between 3 and 4 percent. Under the old contract with the county, merit pay was capped at 5 percent.
"This is unprecedented in that we are tying merit pay directly to the health of sales tax revenue," said Tracy Bower, spokeswoman for the agency.
The commission needs a 3.49 percent increase in sales tax revenue to continue improving the transit system and buying new vehicles and equipment.
The Regional Transportation Commission is projecting $154 million in sales tax revenue in fiscal year 2013. An increase of 3.5 percent in tax revenue would amount to $5.4 million. The 3 percent merit pay would take about $500,000, leaving plenty to fund services.
Aside from concerns about the public's reaction to the fairness of the contract compared with other public deals, transportation commissioners and union representatives both applauded the bargaining process.
"It was very refreshing," said Al Martinez, president of the SEIU. "There was a sense of trust. That's something hard to find when bargaining. Maybe this is a new approach to collective bargaining. I hope so."
Keating said the two sides sat down at the table with a common goal - to continue to provide a service to the community while understanding the uncertainty over when the economy will turn around. The union was willing to forfeit a year of cost-of-living increases because of the recent concerns over cutting routes to help close a $8.3 million budget cap.
"The RTC has always prided itself on its transparency," Keating said. "We don't want the public to think this is an underhanded deal or shady."
Salaries and benefits amount to 6 percent of the agency's budget. Union members account for 197 of the commission's 278 employees. That is minimal compared to cities and counties that negotiate with thousands of union members.
Regional Transportation commissioners were mostly pleased that merit pay was tied to sales tax revenue increases.
"They (employees) shared in the pain, they should get to share a little of the gain," Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said.
Brown and Commissioner Steve Ross asked for more figures before deciding on the contract. The board opted to continue the public hearing to Aug. 9.
"It's still going to be very difficult to take the RTC and separate it from what is happening in Southern Nevada," Brown said, citing the number of pay cuts and layoffs suffered by other government entities. "To take one agency and say these people deserve 4 to 7 percent increases over the next five years, it seems to come down to a system of fairness. It's not fair. It's not equitable."
Contact reporter Adrienne Packer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2904.