Pay hike as concession

It's a stretch to call Clark County's latest contract adjustment with a public employee union a "concession." It's more like a poke in the eye to struggling taxpayers.

The Service Employees International Union Local 1107, which represents about 5,500 county workers, agreed through mediation to reduce members' base wages by 2 percent, stop counting sick leave toward overtime and make new hires pay more toward their pensions. The pay cut could take effect a month from now, assuming members vote to approve the changes.

Most of these same members, whose average annual compensation totals $80,000 in salary and benefits, have seen their base pay grow about 13 percent over the three years of this terrible economic downturn. And the new terms preserve a pending 1 percent cost-of-living pay raise and the annual 3 percent to 4 percent "merit" raises about 70 percent of county employees can collect.

The "concession" is two steps back, three steps forward. It doesn't reduce the county's out-of-control personnel costs, it merely reduces the growth of those costs. The terms would save the county roughly $8.3 million per year when next fiscal year's revenue shortfall is expected to be at least $30 million because of declining property values. If the Legislature swipes an additional $100 million to $125 million, as many expect, this deal won't save county jobs -- it will kill them.

It makes no sense for the metropolitan area hit hardest by the economic downturn to also retain one of the country's highest-paid local government work forces, for one of the country's biggest public sector-to-private sector wage gaps to get even bigger.

And yet, even a pay freeze appears to be out of the question. The all-Democrat County Commission, ever beholden to bargaining units, bears responsibility for not supporting a harder line in negotiations with unions. Only Commissioner Steve Sisolak has been honest with taxpayers and employee groups, pointing out that without deeper pay cuts, massive layoffs will be the government's only alternative.

If employees merely gave back all the pay increases they received through the recession, the county would be nearly whole, preserving services essential to the public.

Such a gesture would be small potatoes compared to the suffering imposed on valley taxpayers.