Clark County, SEIU trade final jabs

At one point, Clark County’s attorney asked the union president if his organization’s bargaining position was “greedy.”

In another instance, the union’s attorney accused the county of “arrogance.”

Those jabs and others are laid bare in a lengthy transcript of the arbitration proceedings between the county and its largest union, the Service Employees International Union Local 1107. The two-day July hearing was the culmination of a two-year stretch of stalled contract negotiations between the two that started in 2013.

Ultimately, the arbitrator will set the contract and end the dispute over sticking points that include the amount of wage increases, the length of the contract and whether longevity pay for future hires should be eliminated.

The county argues it faces increasing workloads and long-term deficit issues that need to be addressed by eliminating longevity pay for future hires. Longevity pay kicks in for employees after they have eight years on the job. That move would save $210 million across 30 years, it estimates.

“There’s no magic wand to wave,” said county attorney Whit Selert, according to the transcript. “There’s no money tree to shake. That’s the reality of our situation.”

Tensions increased in June, when Clark County froze wage increases for SEIU-affiliated employees, saying a new collective bargaining law requires that because the union contract has expired. Citing changes under the same new law, the county also ordered union President Martin Bassick to return from paid union leave and return to his county job. The new law requires unions to give government agencies financial concessions in order to receive paid union leave.

The union has filed a pending complaint with the state Employee-Management Relations Board, saying its contract has a provision to extend during negotiations.

“But what the case is really about is, I believe, greed on the part of the county, arrogance on the part of the county and mismanagement to the point of refusing to accept and acknowledge the sacrifices and the services of the SEIU-represented employees,” the union’s attorney, Michael Urban, said at the hearing.

The greed theme played out on both sides. Mark Ricciardi, a county attorney, invoked the word when grilling Bassick about a June 15 proposal the union made.

That proposal called for keeping paid union leave, a 2.5 percent cost-of-living allowance, and a concession of extending from eight years to 11 years the time it takes for an employee to become eligible for longevity pay, according to the transcript. The union had proposed that change to longevity pay, which the county rejected, as a concession to allow paid union leave.

Pointing out the raises and paid union leave in the SEIU proposal, Ricciardi asked Bassick: “And that’s not greedy?”

“No it’s not,” Bassick replied, adding that paid union leave for SEIU officials costs about $260,000 a year, while the concession offered would save about $3 million annually.

Bassick pointed out that county commissioners get 3 percent cost-of-living increases for the next four years and haven’t lost longevity pay. The Legislature determines what commissioners get.

When asked, Bassick said he wouldn’t want to lobby against longevity pay for the elected officials “because we think it’s good that they have longevity.”

The county’s costs for outside attorneys from the start of bargaining in 2013 through June 6 total $45,291, county records show. The county hasn’t yet received the bill for July.

Both sides need to submit post-argument briefs with final offers, and the arbitrator’s decision could come by September.

County Manager Don Burnette declined comment.

In an email, Bassick pointed a reporter to the union’s opening statement in the case.

“We proved all (of) it,” he said.

Contact Ben Botkin at bbotkin@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2904. Find him on Twitter: @BenBotkin1.

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