Clark County offers bonus deal to end longevity pay at UMC

Clark County has offered University Medical Center employees a $500 one-time bonus if they agree that new, future hires no longer will receive longevity pay.

The county made the offer through the Service Employees International Union Local 1107, which represents staffers at the county’s public hospital. The two parties have been attempting to negotiate a new contract in recent months but have been unable to reach an agreement.

The union hasn’t yet accepted the offer, which would end longevity pay for future hires not already on the job. A June 6 meeting is scheduled for fact-finding, a step that usually moves both sides to binding arbitration.

But the county’s attempt to end longevity pay puts it at odds with the SEIU, which says such pay is needed to help retain employees, particularly at places like UMC, a public hospital from which employees can move to private-sector hospitals for higher-paying jobs.

Longevity pay kicks in after a county employee reaches eight years of service and pays 0.57 percent of the base pay for each year of service.

The union and county management agree on one point: Ending the practice of longevity pay for future employees won’t generate any savings for eight years.

County Manager Don Burnette said he’s looking for ways to ensure long-term financial stability for the cash-strapped public hospital, which will face increasing financial pressures in the years ahead as the federal Affordable Care Act kicks in.

The county says ending longevity pay for future hires at UMC would save $150 million in a 30-year period.

“There are finite tax dollars available to address the needs of this community, and I have real concerns over whether the County’s general fund budget can continue to support the operations of UMC in the same manner we have always done so. UMC has to become less reliant on public subsidies in the years to come,” Burnette said in a statement.

UMC’s net operating losses are projected to grow. The projected net operating loss for fiscal year 2015, which starts July 1, is $56.7 million. By 2018, the figure is projected to hit $121.6 million, county figures show.

SEIU Local President Martin Bassick questioned the potential expenditure of $2 million — the one-time cost of the $500 bonuses — at the same time the county is laying off UMC staffers.

The hospital in April laid off 105 staffers, a move that also involved shuttering four care centers and an outpatient pharmacy.

“You’ve got an extra $2 million for that, but you’re closing services in five clinics to the community and you stop providing services to the community,” Bassick said. “To me, this doesn’t add up.”

County commissioners in February rejected with a 4-3 vote a tentative agreement with SEIU-affiliated hospital staffers, largely because it would have provided longevity pay for future hires.

Bassick noted that the contract had buy-in from the bargaining teams of UMC and the union before it was put to SEIU members for a vote. More than 99 percent of SEIU members supported the proposal. The rejected contract also included a total of 5.5 percent in three separate cost-of-living increases across a two-year period.

Contact Ben Botkin at bbotkin@reviewjournal.com or 702-405-9781. Find him on Twitter: @BenBotkin1.