Union tries to dodge layoffs

The largest group of Las Vegas city workers has offered wage concessions to help stave off layoffs, although the proposal doesn't reach the 8 percent pay cuts city leaders are seeking from all employees.

Instead, the Las Vegas City Employees Association offered to give up a 3 percent cost-of-living increase scheduled to go into effect in the next fiscal year. Each member would also take 12 unpaid furlough days. The furlough days would save roughly $5 million, while the cost-of-living increase is worth an estimated $4.5 million.

In exchange, the union asked that any savings from those measures be used to save LVCEA jobs.

"The city has said in the past that they will not do that," said Bruce Snyder, the association's attorney. It would be unfair for savings from his group's concessions to be used to save jobs in another bargaining unit, he said.

"If they want to give up their money to save their own people, they can do that," Snyder said. "We want to save our people with our money."

The proposed budget for the 2011 fiscal year, which starts July 1, lays off 146 city employees. About 120 of those are LVCEA members.

The offer came from member feedback over whether the union should offer concessions, said President Don King. A majority said yes, but not by much.

"It wasn't a large majority. It was close," King said. "They felt they should do something."

Snyder said the concessions would amount to an 8.3 percent cut over what employees would get without the changes. Under the union's proposal, eligible workers would continue to receive merit raises.

It's still different from what city management and Mayor Oscar Goodman have asked for. To prevent layoffs, they say employees must give up all raises and accept an 8 percent cut from existing salary levels for two years in a row.

City leaders will discuss the proposal "in detail" with the association "so there are no misunderstandings as to the amount of money to be saved," city spokesman David Riggleman said in an e-mailed statement.

"The offer from the LVCEA is certainly a step in the right direction," he said. "As the city manager indicated (in November), labor costs need to remain flat with employees taking an 8 percent reduction in compensation in order to achieve a balanced budget."

Because of the slow economy and declining tax revenues, Las Vegas expects a $70 million budget deficit in the next fiscal year. City leaders have said pay cuts are the only way to avoid layoffs. Since most city employees are covered under one of four collective bargaining agreements, they must ratify changes that would decrease their pay.

With 1,400 members, the LVCEA is by far the largest of the four groups.

Other bargaining units have made offers as well.

The firefighters union is negotiating a new contract and has offered to leave personnel costs at current levels.

City marshals, represented by the Police Protective Association, offered to give up cost-of-living and longevity pay increases while keeping merit, or "step," raises for those who qualify. They, too, wanted assurances that money saved under their concessions would be used to preserve jobs in their bargaining unit.

At the start of the economic downturn, the city's bargaining units agreed to reduce the amount that wages were scheduled to increase. Contracts vary, but workers generally get a cost-of-living increase of about 3 percent, plus merit raises of 4 or 5 percent if they haven't topped out in their pay grade yet. Cost-of-living increases are negotiated and are not based on any cost indexes. Some employees also qualify for longevity pay, equal to a half percent for every year of city employment up to the top of the position's salary scale.

Last week, Goodman said the city and its bargaining units are in "gridlock" over wage issues because no one's agreed to the 8 percent wage cut. He said a discussion of city-union talks may be on the April 7 City Council agenda.

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