University Medical Center’s union employees rejected a proposed 2 percent pay cut that would’ve saved the hospital $5.5 million.
By rebuffing the rollback, they broke from Clark County workers, managers and county commissioners who will have their pay reduced by 2 percent.
County leaders have told unions that they must make concessions or face layoffs to offset a $36 million drop in property tax revenue. Legislative actions also might cost the county $125 million this year as the state deals with its own severe shortfall.
About 3,300 UMC workers are members of the Service Employees International Union. Seventy-three percent of those opposed the wage reduction, while 27 percent favored it.
Many of the employees, especially nurses, complained that they already make less money than their counterparts at private hospitals and deal with more stress because of UMC’s depleted work force, union spokesman Nick Di Archangel said.
“The hospital is understaffed,” Di Archangel said.
UMC has frozen or eliminated several hundred jobs in the recession.
The county and union probably will go to a fact-finding session in which a moderator helps analyze why the two parties are deadlocked before suggesting a compromise. The two sides will decide beforehand whether the recommendation will be binding, Di Archangel said.
Some commissioners said they were told Thursday that hospital workers were preparing to shoot down the proposed pay cut.
Commissioner Lawrence Weekly said he heard complaints from workers that the proposal was foisted on them with little discussion.
“People were very upset about how it was handled from the beginning,” Weekly said. “They didn’t feel like they were included or thoroughly informed.”
While everyone should chip in during hard times, managers must communicate clearly with workers who are afraid of losing their jobs or the income needed to support their families, Weekly said.
Commissioner Susan Brager said the employees should know that by rejecting the pay cuts, some of them could be laid off.
“It’s sad,” Brager said. “We’re trying to save jobs.”
But Commissioner Tom Collins, who has criticized pay cuts as a quick fix, sided with the employees. Managers should trim benefits instead of wages, he argued.
“I wouldn’t vote for it if I was a member,” Collins said. “There are other ways going forward to save the same amount of money that the county is seeking without taking a penny out of their paychecks.”
Commissioner Steve Sisolak said much of the problem lies with having such diverse employees in the same bargaining unit, such as nurses, custodians and technicians.
Nurses are disgruntled that they are paid less than SEIU nurses in other hospitals, while some of the lesser-skilled workers think their pay is fine, Sisolak said.
Such variation makes it hard for union leaders and managers to get a feel for how open workers are to concessions, he said.
“This demonstrates the frustration that’s existing between labor and management on important issues,” Sisolak said.
Contact reporter Scott Wyland at swyland@review
journal.com or 702-455-4519.