City accepts concessions from marshals unit

Las Vegas’ marshals would take pay cuts and give other concessions under a pending agreement that would save $908,500 and at least 10 jobs and is structured so that personnel costs don’t grow as quickly in the future.

The Las Vegas City Council approved the deal Wednesday, and city marshals, represented by the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, are expected to ratify it as well.

If that happens, the agreement will mark the first real progress Las Vegas has made in getting city employees to accept changes to their labor contracts to prevent or reduce layoffs.

It also could be a key that opens the door for other unions to reach deals with the city.

"We were asking them to volunteer," Mayor Oscar Goodman said of city employees. "The PPA was the first one to step up and do that."

Goodman and other city leaders had been pressing workers to accept 8 percent pay cuts. That didn’t happen, and the council approved a budget for the next fiscal year that lays off more than 200 people.

The 10 city marshals who were part of that group are safe for now, said City Manager Betsy Fretwell. The goal for the marshals unit was $1.1 million in cuts, and "this gets us pretty close to that point."

"This will also help us avoid layoffs in this unit, at least in the short term," she said.

"You didn’t have a bull’s-eye," Goodman said.

"You have a leaner," said Mayor Pro Tem Gary Reese, using a term from horseshoes denoting a near-ringer.

"This is a step in the right direction," Goodman said.

The agreement would cancel cost-of-living and step raises for one year, freeze longevity pay and do away with uniform allowances. It also would introduce a 4 percent salary cut and lower the pay range for deputy city marshals and deputy city marshal sergeants by 4 percent.

Furthermore, when raises are reintroduced in the future, step raises would be 4 percent instead of 5.5 percent. That would lengthen the time it takes to reach the top of the pay grade to 11 years, up from eight years, Fretwell said.

Councilman Steve Wolfson particularly liked that part of the deal.

"This is consistent with what I’ve been calling the creation of the ‘new’ city employee," he said. "It’s moving in the right and necessary direction."

About half of the 75-member group has voted so far, said union Executive Director Chris Collins. And while no votes have been tabulated, he said the measure is likely to be ratified by next week.

The plan also calls for a new marshal unit dedicated to serving pending warrants. The revenue from that operation could prevent an additional 12 marshal layoffs that were planned for January.

Negotiations with the city’s other unions have not been fruitful. The firefighters union recently declared an impasse, so its contract is headed to arbitration. The two other unions, which represent corrections officers and general city employees, do not have offers on the table.

One of the reasons for their reluctance to negotiate was the city’s previous stance that it couldn’t guarantee that savings from a bargaining unit’s concessions would be used to preserve jobs in that unit.

That was a sticking point for the Las Vegas City Employees Association, which has more than 1,000 members and is the hardest hit by layoffs.

"They wouldn’t give me that guarantee," said Don King, the union’s president. "The last word we had is there is no guarantee of anything."

The City Employees Association formulated cost-cutting plans, including one that had employees accepting furlough days. An 8 percent cut in the unit’s pay would be about $16.7 million, according to the city.

If members’ jobs can be saved, the union "possibly" could talk to the city again, King said. He said he would have to discuss the idea with the union’s board of directors.

Las Vegas, like other public entities across the state and nation, is struggling with a shrinking budget because of the recession’s negative effect on tax revenue.

The city’s cuts and layoffs are supposed to bridge an expected $80 million deficit in the coming budget year, although city leaders have said that figure could increase, potentially making more cuts necessary.

Contact reporter Alan Choate at achoate@reviewjournal.com or 702-229-6435.

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