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Clark County commissioners OK firefighter contracts

Clark County commissioners approved labor contracts Tuesday for firefighters and battalion chiefs that will save the county an estimated
$4.5 million a year.

County managers pushed harder for labor concessions because of a budget crunch that resulted in a $100 million shortfall this year.

Most commissioners and the local firefighters union leader praised the efforts of both parties to reach a swift accord and save the county money in the tough economy.

The task was trimming costs without compromising the Fire Department’s ability to handle emergency calls, said Ryan Beaman, president of International Association of Firefighters Local 1908.

“We want to continue to provide emergency services to the public,” Beaman said.

Commissioner Lawrence Weekly agreed that both public safety and the county’s financial situation had to be considered in the labor deals.

“There’s a happy medium,” he said.

Firefighters previously voted to accept the contract.

The bulk of firefighters are on a separate contract from battalion chiefs. Commissioners signed off Tuesday on both contracts, which will go into effect July 1. The firefighters have a one-year contract, the battalion chiefs a two-year contract.

Last year, firefighters averaged $130,000 in wages and $58,000 in benefits. Battalion chiefs averaged $183,000 in wages and $81,000 in benefits.

In the larger contract, about 740 firefighters will take a 1.5 percent pay cut, lose a vacation day and a sick day, and have longevity pay frozen at current levels. Also, the first-year wage for rookie firefighters will be lowered by 5 percent.

The $4.2 million in concessions will be on top of the reductions in firefighters’ pay and benefits that the county won in arbitration in January, for a total savings of $13.3 million yearly, county officials estimate.

Meanwhile, the nine battalion chiefs agreed to concessions that will save about $230,000 a year.

Each chief’s average yearly earnings will drop by roughly $40,000 through a 5 percent cut in base wages and reductions in callback and overtime pay.

The chiefs’ contract also will be affected. Vacation and sick leave accruals are being reduced, merit increases are being frozen, longevity pay is being trimmed, and bonus leave for new battalion chiefs is being decreased.

Both contracts have new terms for monitoring sick leave because of misuse that was uncovered during arbitration.

Emails showed that some firefighters and battalion chiefs used sick leave as vacation, which is a violation of the contract, resulting in more overtime pay being shelled out to those filling in, county officials concluded.

The fire chief will be able to request a doctor’s note proving an illness if a firefighter misses five shifts in a year. Previously, a firefighter had to miss four work days in a row before the chief could ask for a doctor’s note.

Potential sick leave abuse has led to the county conducting an internal probe and the FBI and Metropolitan Police Department conducting an inquiry that could turn into a criminal investigation.

One firefighter has been terminated, and as many as 13 others could be fired, demoted or otherwise punished.

Commissioner Steve Sisolak, a critic of firefighters’ compensation, called into question whether firefighters losing one vacation day and one sick leave day was a substantial concession.

He asked Assistant County Manager Ed Finger the total number of days off a firefighter can take in a year, if one counts sick time, vacation and holidays.

Finger pegged the number at 33 days.

“That’s 3½ months,” Sisolak said, noting that firefighters work 10 24-hour shifts a month.

But despite his objections, Sisolak voted in favor of the contract.

Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, a union advocate, said the speedy agreements show managers and labor can work together in dire times.

“I think it will help to heal some of the negativity that has been cast not only on our firefighters but our public employees,” she said.

Contact reporter Scott Wyland at swyland@reviewjournal.com or 702-455-4519.

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