Supplemental pay inflates county labor costs by $155 million


Supplemental pay added $155 million to Clark County's labor costs last year while the economy sank into a deeper recession, according to a new report ordered by county commissioners.

The added pay for the public employees includes overtime, callback, longevity, premium and a host of reimbursements for such things as clothing, tuition and jury duty.

It pushed the county's total wages to $573 million.

One commissioner argued that in the growing budget crisis, some of the add-ons must be curbed and others eliminated.

"Base salaries aren't that bad; it's all the other things that make it so high," Commissioner Steve Sisolak said.

The supplemental perks accumulated over the years during many labor negotiations, Sisolak said. After they become embedded in a contract, they are never removed.

Sisolak also was riled that the report showed firefighters' cost-of-living raises outpacing inflation by 32 percent in a 20-year period. Cost-of-living bumps for other county union workers outstripped inflation by 13 percent in the same period.

These adjustments go far beyond their true purpose of offsetting inflation, he said.

"It's not a COLA," Sisolak said. "Let's call it what it is: a raise."

Commissioners last week received the 36-page, chart-filled report that dissected wages and benefits for most employees. Most commissioners didn't respond to phone calls seeking comment.

Several of them requested the detailed data as the county prepares to negotiate in a couple of weeks with public employee unions and possibly lay off workers this year to offset an estimated $200 million shortfall.

The report didn't include University Medical Center, the Metropolitan Police Department or regional districts like water reclamation.

Representatives of the local firefighters and county employee unions said Monday they couldn't comment because they haven't had a chance to study the report.

"I would be happy to comment after receiving a copy of the report," said Ryan Beaman, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 1908.

In 2009, the county shelled out $418 million in regular pay. Of that, $240 million came from the general operating fund, which is fed mainly by taxes and fees.

The county also spent $155 million on supplemental pay. About $100 million of that came from the general fund.

Supplemental pay varies. Some workers receive callback pay if they are ordered back to work too soon after a shift ends. Some get premium pay for cross-training as, say, emergency medical technicians. Others qualify for longevity pay after working a certain number of years for the county.

County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said the county should look at whether overtime pay grew in certain departments during the economic boom, then figure out how to scale it back.

She said the report lumps together managers and rank-and-file workers in some categories, making the average wage look higher.

Having a clear and accurate picture of labor costs will be crucial in dealing with any financial effects that come from the state Legislature's special session, she said. "We need to tread very carefully."

Fire Department battalion chiefs fared particularly well in 2009. Six of the 11 earned more than $200,000 a year, putting them on par with the county manager.

Their supervisory role gives them a higher pay grade, but they still qualify for overtime, callback and other supplemental pay. They also aren't subject to the salary freeze imposed on full-fledged managers.

A researcher at a conservative think tank said he wasn't surprised that union employees' cost-of-living raises outpaced inflation.

These wage increases have nothing to do with inflation because unions negotiate a rate that covers several years, said Geoffrey Lawrence, analyst for the Nevada Research Policy Institute, based in Las Vegas. "It's like an arbitrary raise."

The raises should be tied directly to the inflation rate, Lawrence said.

Sisolak agreed, saying "it would save a fortune."

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

 

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