Clark County finally has resolved an impasse with its largest bargaining group, reaching a tentative two-year contract with the union that represents most workers. The deal, which still must be approved by the rank and file of the Service Employees International Union, is at once an acknowledgement of the struggles of the private-sector job market and a reminder of how much farther the county must go to rein in long-term personnel costs.
The contract awards no cost-of-living pay raises over the two years. Good. Such raises were never tied to the Consumer Price Index, and never amounted to anything more than arbitrary gravy. The contract also suspends merit pay raises for the two years. Good. Far from rewarding exceptional performance, the county's annual 4 percent "merit" pay raises have been handed out to workers for showing up and meeting the minimum requirements of their jobs. Finally, longevity pay, a 0.57 percent pay raise for each year of service upon reaching eight years of employment, will be frozen for the current fiscal year but issued next fiscal year.
Nevada companies are reducing benefits, freezing and cutting salaries and shedding jobs to survive. Public employees shouldn't be awarded capricious pay raises in such a climate, when local governments are making cutbacks of their own.
Don't feel bad for the county work force. Already among the country's highest-paid local government employees, their wages have grown an average of 13 percent since 2009.
For that reason alone, handing out longevity pay raises next summer makes no sense. These raises are awarded to the most senior, highest-paid workers in the county. To reward them simply for sticking around for another year, when their jobs are already protected through seniority rules, is a giveaway. County management had sought to get rid of longevity pay for future hires -- as other local governments have -- but the union refused.
The union's stalling tactics prevailed in that negotiating battle, but the county shouldn't give up the cause. This is about as good a contract as taxpayers could hope to get.