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SEIU, county talks frozen as Legislature considers bargaining reform


Clark County government and its largest union remain locked in a standoff, unable to bargain a contract.

The county and Service Employees International Union Local 1107 cannot even agree enough to take their dispute to an arbitrator for a final decision.

Both sides started negotiating in June 2013. By February 2014, the SEIU had declared an impasse that continues to this day.

Correspondence between attorneys for the dueling sides reveals a grueling 14-month marathon with unfruitful attempts to end the impasse. Mounting frustrations also emerge in the documents, obtained by the Review-Journal through a public records request.

The SEIU represents about 5,000 county employees who work in such jobs as case­workers, maintenance and clerical staff.

The widening gridlock comes at a critical time for collective bargaining. Nevada lawmakers are considering Assembly Bill 182, which would make sweeping changes to collective bargaining and binding arbitration for public agencies.

Martin Bassick, president of the SEIU Local 1107, suggested the county is stalling in part to see what develops from the potential legislative changes.

County Manager Don Burnette countered, saying, “That’s ridiculous.”

County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak said he supports collective bargaining, but the process needs to improve.

“We need to do something to make this process faster,” Sisolak said. “It’s ridiculous that it’s taken two years, and we’re still at the same place.”

FRUSTRATION BUILDS

In binding arbitration, or fact finding, both sides agree to go before an arbitrator for a final decision.

But in this case, they disagree on how many years the contract should cover if they go before an arbitrator, an independent decision-maker agreed to by both sides.

The union wants a contract that lasts through June 30, 2017. But the county doesn’t want an arbitrator to be in charge of setting salaries for the fiscal year that starts July 1, 2016, because it doesn’t know enough about its financial outlook for that year.

During negotiations, the two sides were stymied in part over whether to end longevity pay for new and future hires. The county has pushed to end it for new employees so it can get some long-term savings while offering a 2.5 percent cost-of-living increase. The county restored a 2 percent pay cut as the economy rebounded.

Both sides agree it’s taken way too long to resolve the dispute.

“This is all very frustrating,” Burnette said, stressing that employees deserve a contract. “I wish we could just agree to push the matter to binding arbitration and get this resolved as quickly as possible.”

Bassick sounded frustrated, too.

“We’re pushing,” he said. “We keep sending letter after letter.”

Bassick added: “We should have already had this settled. Once again, they’re stalling. If they really feel confident in their case, let’s go to fact finding.”

GETTING THERE

By Feb. 10, 2014, talks between the parties stalled.

Michael Urban, the SEIU’s attorney, wrote to the county’s lawyer, saying they had reached an impasse and requested binding fact finding.

Both sides talked more. On Aug. 14, 2014, Mark Ricciardi, the county’s private labor attorney, contacted Urban.

“Although you and I have spoken several times, no progress has been made on an agreement for an impasse procedure,” Ricciardi wrote.

“It is my understanding that the Union wishes to proceed to binding fact finding.”

Ricciardi suggested picking an arbitrator. Urban wanted to wait until after an Oct. 2 negotiating session.

Ricciardi pushed again.

“Is your client ready to enter into an agreement for fact finding?” Ricciardi emailed Urban on Oct. 21.

On Nov. 20, the SEIU said it’s willing to go an arbitrator but wanted one more bargaining session.

The next day, Ricciardi again enclosed the agreement for an arbitrator.

The SEIU disagreed with the county’s proposed contract end date of June 30, 2016. The union wanted the contract to end June 30, 2017. Ricciardi replied that the contract could end in 2017 but still would need to be reopened in 2016 to negotiate salaries for the final year.

NEW YEAR, OLD PROBLEM

In January, Ricciardi reminded the union that the county wouldn’t let an arbitrator set wages for the fiscal year starting July 1, 2016.

Urban countered, saying that both sides could submit their final proposals for that period, and the county could seek a wage reopener for the final year.

“Why is that a problem?” Urban emailed Jan. 9.

By then, Ricciardi was growing weary of repeating himself.

“I don’t know any other way to explain the County’s position,” Ricciardi responded. “Let me try this: the County is not willing to permit a Fact Finder to set the wages for the 16-17 year.”

The emails intensified.

“I don’t know what your client really wants,” Ricciardi emailed Jan. 13. “For many months I have been sending you a proposed agreement for binding fact finding.”

Ricciardi asked the union to sign it by Jan. 20, writing “Attached AGAIN is the agreement for binding fact finding.”

On Jan. 20, Urban defended the SEIU’s approach, saying that potential increases for the final contract year in question were discussed in December negotiations.

“I cannot understand why that proposal is not acceptable to the county, particularly after a final year increase was discussed in negotiations,” Urban emailed.

On Feb. 13, the union asked to go to nonbinding mediation, which keeps talks moving with a third party. Urban wrote they “must resolve this gridlock.”

The county countered, saying mediation already was tried, and offered instead to go to nonbinding fact finding.

The county also revoked its offer to go to binding fact finding because it was rejected, its March 3 letter shows. But the SEIU said the issues had changed without offering specifics.

That drew questions.

“Even if the County were willing to mediate AGAIN, which it has not yet agreed to do, it is not willing to waste time and resources plowing over the same ground it already covered in the previous un­successful mediation,” Ricciardi emailed, asking for specifics.

Urban on March 27 wrote back, offering to go to binding fact finding. The union also asked for a panel to decide if the fact finding would be final and binding or not binding.

Ricciardi reminded the union it already had turned down county proposals to enter binding fact finding.

Again, the county offered to go into binding arbitration. This time, the county shortened the contract length to one year — the current fiscal year ending June 30 — and cited the union’s past rejections as the reason.

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