The administrators of the Regional Transportation Commission and their opposite numbers at the Service Employees International Union had their pre-nuptial agreement all worked out earlier this month. All they needed was for the eight voting members of the RTC Board to give their blessing to the transit agency's new five-year contract.
And that's when the wheels came off.
As reported July 15 by the Review-Journal's Adrienne Packer, the proposed contract covered five years, as opposed to the typical two to four years.
Management won some improvements. Merit pay would be awarded only to proficient employees (which is what the word is supposed to mean, after all), while bonuses would be tied directly to increases in sales tax revenue. Longevity pay for new hires would be reduced to three-tenths of 1 percent of their salary, about half of what it was. In addition to merit pay and longevity, after one year the contract calls for employees to receive cost-of-living increases based on a three-year average of the Western Consumer Price Index.
Both administrators and the union thought it was a good deal. And it was - for them.
The RTC board members, meanwhile, were elected to represent their respective cities and Clark County. Considering the wage freezes, position eliminations, buyouts, benefit cuts and layoffs they've had to approve back at their regular jobs, they obviously were concerned that approving this contract would be seen as the equivalent of providing a champagne toast.
The commissioners requested more time to consider the agreement.
Former Clark County Manager Thom Reilly, author of the book "Rethinking Public Sector Compensation," said he understands concerns voiced by RTC board Chairman Larry Brown, a county commissioner, who said this proposal was unfair and inequitable compared with other negotiated public employee contracts in Southern Nevada.
"I share Larry Brown's hesitation," Mr. Reilly said. "Public agencies use each other as comparisons all the time, regardless of their size." Nevada already consistently ranks in the top five states for public employee compensation, he points out. Locking itself into a five-year contract during unpredictable economic times could backfire on the RTC, he warns.
Mr. Reilly also questioned the retention of longevity pay, even at a reduced level, calling it an antiquated concept that was first introduced to provide compensation equality between the public and private sectors - back in the long-gone days when public-sector workers actually earned less.
The RTC commissioners are wise to be cautious. The local economy has indeed been showing signs of life. But the future remains uncertain and unclear.
Yes, those who expect competent work need to offer fair pay. But around these parts, employment today is a buyer's market. This contract is a bad deal for taxpayers. It must be dialed back.