SEIU shouldn’t have to bargain for wage-cut restoration

Given the well-known anti-union stance of the Review-Journal editorial board, it should come as no surprise that the nearly 9,000 members of Service Employees International Union Nevada take serious issue with the newspaper’s April 5 editorial, “Bargain for it.” We’d like to set the record straight.

In the spring of 2011, when Southern Nevada was still reeling from the devastating effects of the Great Recession, SEIU Nevada members who work for Clark County agreed to an appeal from their struggling employer. Our members accepted a 2 percent wage cut with the stipulation that the cut would be restored to union county employees if and when it was reinstated to nonunion employees. “It was at the time where we asked everyone to step up to the plate, and they did,” County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said during the April 1 County Commission meeting. “But part of the understanding was … to restore that 2 percent if we restored it to the other [employees].”

In August 2013, the county restored the 2 percent cut to nonunion employees, but not to unionized workers. When our attorney contacted the county’s chief financial officer and lead contractor negotiator Yolanda King about this disparity, King said the county would not reinstate the wage reduction without bargaining for it in a new contract. With no other recourse, we filed a complaint in February with the Local Government Employee-Management Relations Board, the state agency charged with resolving disputes between local governments and their unions. That complaint is still pending.

Since then, we have continued to negotiate for a new contract. We continue to believe the 2011 wage cut and our current contract negotiations should remain separate, a position shared by at least two commissioners. “We need to keep the two conversations separate,” Commissioner Lawrence Weekly said during a discussion about the issue at the April 1 commission meeting. “To me, this [pay cut restoration] is separate from what you’re bargaining for now,” Giunchigliani added. County Manager Donald G. Burnette added that the only thing the county wanted in exchange for restoring the wage cut was for the union to withdrawal the EMRB complaint, which we’ve publicly said we’ll do. “It’s [the wage cut resolution] not been tied to anything other than dropping the EMRB complaint,” Burnette said in response to a question about the issue from Commissioner Steve Sisolak. “Not tied to anything other than that.”

But when the county a few hours later sent us a proposed agreement that would formally settle the issue, it contained a new condition: in exchange for restoring the wage cut, the county also would require us to relinquish our right to negotiate for a cost-of-living adjustment in fiscal year 2014. When we reiterated our intention to bargain for a new contract independent of the 2011 wage cut issue, King refused, saying she’d see us back at the bargaining table later this month. This could indefinitely delay the county making good on a promise it made to our members three years ago and counting.

SEIU Nevada is the face of Clark County — at McCarran International Airport, the public works and parks and recreation departments, District Court, and many other functions vital to our community. We stepped up when the county needed us, and only asked that it honor its word to us when times improved, in the same way it already has with its nonunion employees.

The county’s latest posturing is troubling to our membership — and to others. “We need to remember where we were at and what this was tied to,” Giunchigliani said at the April 1 commission meeting. “There was no expiration date. It really did say if restored to the others, they get it. I do think we asked our employees to do something when times were tough, and they did. And it’s bothersome to me that … we’re arguing over this, rather than just doing what we agreed to do.”

We couldn’t agree more. It’s time for the county to do the right thing and keep its promise to our members.

Martin Bassick is an 11-year employee of Clark County and president of SEIU Nevada, which represents nearly 18,000 public-sector and health care workers throughout the state.