Las Vegas, firefighters union appear close to new labor deal


The Las Vegas firefighters union and the city are close to a deal on a new labor contract, which would put an end to months of wrangling at a time when the city is struggling with budget deficits.

Mayor Oscar Goodman called it an "agreement in principle" but stressed it was not a done deal.

"It's a step in the right direction," Goodman said Thursday. "There's no consensus on the council on whether to accept that or not."

The deal includes eliminating a cost-of-living increase for next year, deferring a uniform allowance next year, reducing health insurance contributions for next year and adding more roving firefighter positions to reduce overtime.

As part of the deal, the city would stop any plans to privatize paramedic services, which now are handled by the Fire Department, and the firefighters' contract would be extended a year.

The deal would save the city about $2.7 million. The city was seeking $8.8 million in reductions.

Negotiators have to meet again to work on the details. The proposal then would have to be approved by the City Council and the firefighters union rank and file before it could go into effect.

"I'm pretty confident," said Dean Fletcher, president of International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1285. "We made a tentative agreement with the city's negotiation team, and I feel pretty good about it."

One part of the proposed new contract would implement, for the Fire Department, the concept of a "new city employee" that has been bandied about for at least two years.

Even before the recession caused tax revenue to plummet, some were worried about the ever-increasing personnel costs of city employees. Existing contracts contain annual raises of 6 percent to 8 percent for many workers, and the benefit packages -- including health insurance and retirement contributions -- are generous.

To stay solvent, City Council members said, those raises and benefits need to be curtailed. In the proposed firefighter contract, any new hires would start at a 5 percent lower salary. A firefighter trainee's current starting salary is $43,277.

"Things are moving in the right direction," City Councilman Steve Wolfson said.

It probably does not help the city in the short term, Wolfson acknowledged, because the city is cutting positions and laying off people, not hiring them.

Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian said the city needs to keep pushing on benefit costs.

"We have to look very carefully at our benefits because they are going to overcome us," she said.

Las Vegas must complete its 2011 budget soon, which means cutting costs to make up for an $80 million gap between revenues and expenditures. There are 161 layoffs planned, and Goodman has said that number could double because of further revenue declines and the city's inability to get the cuts it wants out of the bargaining units.

Members of the city's largest union, the Las Vegas City Employees Association, voted recently not to give any concessions. They, like other workers, were frustrated that the city wouldn't promise that no layoffs would occur if they agreed to the cuts sought by city management.

The Police Protective Association has offered some concessions and upped its offer Wednesday. In addition to giving up a cost-of-living increase and a uniform allowance and freezing longevity pay, they offered to lower the step increase. Currently, marshals who the union represents receive a 5.5 percent annual pay increase for eight years. The offer would make it 4 percent annually for 11 years.

Police union Executive Director Chris Collins said he hasn't calculated how much the savings would be, but he estimated the whole package would equal $600,000 saved. The city had been looking to cut $1.1 million from the marshals.

Collins said he hasn't received a response to his offer from city officials.

"There's no 'We're not going to take it,' there's no 'We're going to take it,'" he said. "They're talking about it."

Contact reporter Alan Choate at achoate@reviewjournal.com or 702-229-6435.

 

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