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Clark County suspends union contract for UMC health care workers

Clark County Manager Yolanda King has suspended union contracts for some 9,000 employees, including medical workers at University Medical Center.

The move, which union leaders say was unprecedented and came without warning Tuesday, followed a March 15 emergency declaration by the county. In an email sent to county employees Wednesday evening, King wrote that the contracts would remain suspended through the duration of the emergency, which was spurred by the new coronavirus outbreak.

“This was necessary to allow us to quickly change employees’ schedules and take other steps to make us all safer while providing critical services to our community,” King wrote in the email, which was obtained by the Review-Journal. “This was one of many necessary measures that we have used to make the County more responsive during this extraordinary time.”

But leaders at the Nevada chapter of Service Employees International Union said they fear the changes will remove critical protections long enshrined in union contracts.

At UMC, a nonprofit hospital operated by the county, that could include opening up staff to potential risks by relaxing nurse-to-patient ratios and policies about personal protective equipment such as face masks, according to one union steward.

“What the county has effectively done is taken away the safety net for our employees,” said Michael Collins, the steward and a UMC charge nurse. “We’re stressed to the max, and this just really increases our stress levels.”

SEIU Local 1107, the largest health care union in Nevada, represents close to 4,000 UMC employees. It represents more than 5,000 employees in county departments ranging from public works to family services to juvenile justice.

Collins and Grace Vergara-Mactal, the chapter’s executive director, said they had never seen a contract suspended by management during their decades of experience with the union. Despite the pressures from the COVID-19 outbreak, they said union leaders had been constantly working with the county and UMC to adjust employee schedules.

“We told them this is a partnership, and we want to be part of the solution to this crisis,” Vergara-Mactal said. “The suspension is unnecessary.”

She said the union will work aggressively to convince the Clark County Commission to end the contract suspensions immediately.

One of the worst-case scenarios union leaders imagine is that employees face layoffs because of the coronavirus outbreak’s impact on the county’s tourism-fueled economy. Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak on Wednesday extended a previously mandated closure of casinos and all nonessential businesses to at least April 30.

In her email to county staff Wednesday, King both praised employees’ “selfless dedication to public service” and warned of a grim financial forecast.

The county expects $1.1 billion in lost revenue over the next 12 to 18 months, including at UMC and McCarran International Airport, King wrote. The impact would would likely be “severe,” and the losses are not expected to not be completely offset by federal funds that are anticipated to be distributed to local governments affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Sadly, I am afraid County leadership will be forced to make some extremely difficult decisions during the coming weeks and months,” King wrote.

Attempts to reach King for comment were unsuccessful.

Contact Michael Scott Davidson at sdavidson@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861. Follow @DavidsonLVRJ on Twitter.

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