Henderson reaches deals with unions

Firefighters, police officers and other union workers in Henderson have agreed to forgo cost-of-living raises for a minimum of two years under new labor agreements that might help stave off layoffs in Nevada's second-largest city.

Members of the city's three largest unions have overwhelmingly ratified the contracts, which were negotiated without the public squabbles that have played out elsewhere in the Las Vegas Valley.

The new agreements will come before the City Council for approval on Tuesday.

Human Resources Director Fred Horvath, who represented the city in the negotiations, said talks with the unions "couldn't have gone better."

"We haven't had any of the rhetoric we've read from other parts of the valley," Horvath said. "I couldn't be happier with our relationships. We have very straight talk about some very difficult issues."

The union concessions are expected to save the city $4.8 million over the next two budget years and more than $13 million through 2015, Horvath said.

The Henderson Police Officers' Association, which represents 340 rank-and-file officers, has agreed to extend its current one-year agreement for three more years with no cost-of-living increases.

The city's 196 union firefighters have approved a two-year contract that eliminates altogether a series of 1.25 percent cost-of-living increases they agreed to defer less than a year ago.

The only city union workers due to receive any sort of cost-of-living raise are the 717 full-time employees represented by Teamsters Local 14. They agreed to a two-year deal that eliminates base-wage increases until the fiscal year starting July 1, 2012, when they are due to receive 1.25 percent raises.

City employees still will be eligible for standard merit-based step increases in their pay.

"When we went to the table, the first thing we wanted to do was prevent any layoffs," said Larry Griffith, secretary-treasurer for Teamsters Local 14. "It's one of two things: You either go to the table and help the city get through a bad time, or you say, 'We're not coming to the table and you can lay off 200 people.' "

Horvath said the city worked hard when times were good to forge an open and cooperative relationship with its unions.

"They believe. They've been partners with us," he said.

That mutual trust "meant everything" as the city and its workers set to work in 2008 to begin dealing with an economic downturn that was then in its infancy.

Since then, Henderson has reduced its full-time staff to 1,863, mostly through a series of buyouts and without resorting to a single involuntary layoff, Horvath said.

For roughly 40 city workers, avoiding a layoff meant accepting a transfer to another job and as much as a 40 percent cut in pay.

The city has 184 vacant positions, including 119 jobs that have been permanently eliminated.

"The city of Henderson gets it. They got it two years ago, and they still get it," Griffith said. "Other cities in this valley don't get it."

Henderson spokeswoman Kathleen Richards said the city's 543 nonunion workers, many of them upper-level supervisors, also have made significant concessions, including the elimination of car and uniform allowances, a loss of one paid holiday, and the end of a city retirement match of up to $6,000 a year.

Horvath said no promises were made to secure the union concessions. Aside from the base-wage increase due to Teamsters workers in 2012, he said, the city is not on the hook for any cost-of-living raises in the coming years. Several unions retained the right to try to reopen their contracts down the road, however, should budget conditions improve.

"We're not going to make a financial commitment ... that we can't keep. That makes, in all due respect, no sense in this environment," Horvath said. "Given what everyone is saying, we're not expecting a big turnaround anytime soon."

Henderson officials did just receive a bit of good economic news: The city saw its consolidated tax revenue tick up in April after 37 straight months of year-over-year declines.

City projections for April called for a 5 percent drop in so-called C-tax money, most of which comes from sales taxes.

Contact reporter Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350.