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Memo: Clark County’s largest union rejects 4 percent COLA-merit pay hike offer

Clark County has offered its largest union a contract that has a 2 percent cost-of-living increase and an additional 2 percent merit increase for eligible employees, according to a county memo obtained by the Review-Journal.

The Service Employees International Union Local 1107 has rejected the county’s proposal according to the memo, written by County Manager Don Burnette and sent to county department heads and officials.

The union represents about 5,000 county employees.

The county’s proposal calls for eliminating longevity pay for new future hires. Under that proposal, workers already on the county’s payroll still would be eligible for longevity pay. For each year of service at eight years or more, longevity pay adds 0.57 percent per year.

About 70 percent of SEIU employees aren’t topped out and would be eligible for merit pay under the proposal.

The current contract with the SEIU froze merit pay for a two-year period that ends Feb. 18, 2014. The 2 percent merit pay proposal would be retroactive to Feb. 18, 2013.

SEIU workers also took 2 percent pay cuts in 2011.

The memorandum doesn’t say why the union rejected the county’s offer or what the sticking points are.

“I know you, and your management team, are very much interested in the status of negotiations, and would like to see a contract in place as soon as possible,” Burnett wrote in the memo.

Burnette declined to discuss the negotiations, saying he wants to respect the ongoing bargaining process.

Martin Bassick, president of the SEIU Local 1107, didn’t respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

The county’s proposal falls in line with its treatment of other workers, who shouldered 2 percent pay cuts in 2011.

Commissioners on Tuesday restored the 2 percent pay cut for about 750 non-union, non-management employees and eliminated longevity pay for future hires.

That move has an annual cost of about $1 million, with long-term savings of $28.3 million for the next 30 years because of the elimination of longevity pay. The savings from eliminating longevity pay would take eight years to kick in, as new employees without the benefit start to enter the system.

Earlier this year, upper management staff members were awarded a 2 percent increase after experiencing a 2 percent pay cut in 2011.

Because the 2 percent increase is based on their lower salary, employees didn’t get a full restoration of the 2 percent cut to their higher pay in 2011.

Tight times brought about by the deep recession haven’t entirely ended. Higher retirement contributions are also chipping away at the salaries of most county employees, including SEIU workers and resulting in a 1 percent pay drop.

Of course, there are differences between the public sector and the private sector. Average wages in the private sector are lower in Clark County, but rising at a higher level compared to local government wages.

State data shows that workers in the valley employed at all local government agencies, including the county and other entities such as cities, had an overall salary drop of $7 a week between 2010 and 2012, according to the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation. According to that data, based on reports from local government agencies, the average local government worker in the valley had a weekly pay of $1,050 in 2012. That’s down from a weekly pay of $1,057 in 2010.

That data is reported to the state based on figures of all employees who are eligible for unemployment benefits.

In the private sector, workers in Clark County earned an average of $802 a week in 2012, up from $778 in 2010, according to state data.

Outside the county’s sphere of influence, the idea of raises has critics and supporters.

Victor Joecks, communications director for the Nevada Policy Research Institute, said it sends a mixed message, given the high unemployment rate that plagues the region. The institute is a Las Vegas-based conservative think tank.

“The 4 percent figure would shock a lot of people in this economy,” he said.

Cara Clarke, senior director of communications for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, said the county’s recent decision to restore the 2 percent cut for non-union employees is prudent, noting the long-term savings of eliminating longevity pay.

In the private sector, pay increases for employees will depend on each business’ unique situation, she said.

“Although there are certainly positive economic signs out there, I think many businesses are being cautious,” she said. “They don’t want to promise more than is prudent during this recovery.”

Contact reporter Ben Botkin at bbotkin@reviewjournal.com or 702-455-4519.

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