City workers going to four-day week as part of contract changes

If you have business to conduct with the city of Las Vegas, you probably won’t be able to do it on Fridays starting in January.

That is when most city employees will convert to a four-day, 9.5-hour-a-day workweek under contract concessions that have reached final approval.

Members of the Las Vegas City Employees Association, the city’s largest union, ratified that and other concessions Tuesday night by a vote of 635-75, and the City Council unanimously approved them Wednesday.

Some departments will continue to operate on Fridays, including the Municipal Court, public works, parks and recreation, and graffiti abatement and code enforcement. Those employees will work 38 hours a week, but shifts will be staggered so positions are covered for the full week.

The City Employees Association, with about 1,400 members, was the third of four city employee unions to agree to concessions aimed at saving money and avoiding more layoffs as the city continues to struggle with the effects of the economic slump.

It was the largest turnout for a union contract vote that Don King, the group’s president, could remember.

“As a labor leader, I can tell you it’s hard to make concessions,” he said. “I believe it’s the right thing to do.”

According to city estimates, the changes will save $2 million in the current budget year, which ends June 30, and
$11 million in each of the next two fiscal years.

“This helps us keep our people at work,” City Manager Betsy Fretwell said. “This helps us avoid massive layoffs. We hope. We still have work to do. This is one piece of the puzzle, but it is a major piece of the puzzle.”

City officials have been cutting programs and expenses, holding positions vacant and laying off some employees because of declining tax revenues.

A general fund budget shortfall is expected in the next fiscal year. The shortfall is estimated at $47 million now, but Fretwell has said it might not be that large.

The general fund, which pays for the city’s operating expenses, is budgeted at $477 million in the current fiscal year.

The elements of the labor pact include the following:

■ Employees covered by the agreement will switch from a 40-hour workweek to a 38-hour schedule in January. In most cases, that would mean 9.5-hour workdays Monday through Thursday.

■ The city will close from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, and union workers will be unpaid.

■ Cost-of-living raises scheduled in 2011 and 2012 will be suspended. In the past, the raises have been between
2.5 percent and 3.5 percent.

■ Step increases and longevity pay will be suspended in 2011 and 2012. Step increases vary, but are usually around
4 percent to 6 percent.

Those raises will not be “made up” in future years, city spokesman David Riggleman said.

“They will not. It’s not retroactive. They’ve agreed to give up those benefits for two years, and then we’re back at the bargaining table in 2014.”

City marshals, firefighters and detention center workers are covered under different labor agreements and will not be affected by the changes. Marshals and firefighters have reached separate deals with the city, and discussions with the union for detention center workers are ongoing.

When the shorter work week is in place, city offices will be open 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

“I’m a little bit skeptical” about the four-day week, Mayor Pro Tem Gary Reese said. “I’ll have to see it implemented. Maybe we’ll keep it for a little while. Maybe we’ll keep it forever. Change is always hard for me.”

City officials and the City Employees Association have been wrangling over changes for most of the past year, and discussions were tense at times. At one point, union members voted to offer no concessions to the city because officials would not guarantee that layoffs could be avoided.

Councilman Ricki Barlow said the union was right to stick up for its members.

“Our employees have worked many years at the city of Las Vegas,” he said. “We can’t take that lightly. We can’t blame them for standing their ground for what they’ve worked for. They understand. Our revenues continue to go down, and our personnel (costs) continue to go up.”

Over the past year, Mayor Oscar Goodman was called a “bully” by some employees, and he proposed firing all city workers and rehiring them to work a 36-hour week.

“It takes two to tango,” Goodman said Wednesday. “Hatchets need to be buried. That’s all I can say.”

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

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