EDITORIAL: Longevity pay should end for future SEIU county employees

Longevity pay has been going the way of the dinosaur, here in Southern Nevada and nationwide. Over the past few years, Clark County and all but one of its unions rightly moved to phase out the incentive for future hires. But the Service Employees International Union Local 1107 is determined to ride the longevity pay mastodon, long after the rest of its union brethren have agreed to remove the stipulation for future hires.

As reported by the Review-Journal’s Ben Botkin on April 6, the SEIU is the last bargaining unit to still have longevity pay for future county employees in its contract. It’s a big problem, because the SEIU is the county’s biggest union, representing nearly 5,000 employees, plus another 3,000 at University Medical Center. Last year, Clark County paid out $34.5 million in longevity pay to its 4,090 employees who qualified — those who have at least eight years’ experience. The checks averaged about $6,200 per employee. Mr. Botkin noted those numbers, which don’t include UMC staff, encompass all groups that receive longevity pay; SEIU staff workers’ share was $13.3 million.

For all other groups, though, at least that wave will begin to recede in the near future. Employees hired before longevity pay phaseouts went into effect are still eligible to begin collecting the annual bonuses, once they reach the eight-year threshold, but those hired afterward are not eligible. Local SEIU president Martin Bassick argues that the benefit helps with retention and recruiting, and that eliminating it for new hires is “not good for the workforce because now what you get is a two-tiered system. Some of them have it, and some of them don’t.”

Well, welcome to the new reality. Private-sector employers have been dealing with this for decades, eliminating pensions in favor of defined-benefit 401(k) plans, and the Great Recession forced even more companies to scale back incentives or scale back employees — often both.

Mr. Bassick also argued that even if the SEIU agreed to drop longevity pay for future hires, it wouldn’t save a single dollar for eight years, because current employees would still get the benefit. But that’s hardly a reason for Clark County not to keep pushing it, especially considering that for those who continue receiving it, the benefit increases every year. County Manager Don Burnette said dropping longevity pay for future SEIU employees would save $358 million over 30 years. “I know we don’t realize the savings for eight years, but those costs are things we’ll have to incur in the future,” Mr. Burnette told Mr. Botkin, while adding, “We’ve had no trouble whatsoever recruiting high-caliber, extremely talented employees.”

Mr. Botkin noted that nationally, only 5 percent of local government employees receive longevity pay, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics 2013 report. Former Clark County Manager Thom Reilly described the incentive as “pretty archaic.” If the rest of the county’s union employees — and many other groups, including city of Las Vegas workers and the Metropolitan Police Department — can agree to sacrifice longevity pay not for themselves but only future workers, then surely the SEIU can get off its dinosaur and do likewise.