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City layoffs

Layoffs should be the last resort for every struggling Nevada employer. Any other measure, whether it’s schedule reductions, furloughs or salary cuts, is preferable to putting more people in the unemployment line.

Keeping what’s left of the valley’s work force working will give the region hope for a recovery.

On Feb. 25, city of Las Vegas officials announced 171 employees would be let go by mid-June unless workers made major pay concessions. Those job losses, if realized, will be felt in grocery stores and retail outlets, at gasoline stations and restaurants and gyms, and ultimately the wheezing housing market.

It is an unfortunate but necessary step.

City administrators tried to plot a different course, but contracts with its various bargaining units gave the government precious little flexibility. City Manager Betsy Fretwell asked the city’s rank and file, firefighters, marshals, corrections workers and administrative staff to give up all pay raises and take 8 percent pay cuts in each of the next two fiscal years to avert layoffs for at least the time being.

Ms. Fretwell had to cover a $70 million operating revenue shortfall, and pay cuts made up only about half the burden. They would buy all city workers a little time, and nothing more.

But the unions effectively told her — and, by extension, dozens of their own members — to get lost. They wanted the unsustainable salary structure they negotiated left intact, even though ever-growing personnel costs are the reason the city is in such a fiscal bind.

The unions can still change their minds. If they agree to across-the-board pay cuts within a couple of months, those 171 jobs can probably be saved.

The city’s marshals were the first to offer concessions this week in an attempt to spare 13 of their own from the layoffs. But, predictably, the marshals’ offer — reduced pay raises, rather than reduced pay — was woefully inadequate.

As it is, the city is shutting down many recreational and cultural programs and privatizing the Darling Tennis Center. Mayor Oscar Goodman said the city would consider additional privatizing and outsourcing as part of the $39 million in cuts that will have to be made in the summer of 2011 — on top of the $31 million in reductions proposed for this year.

Local government payrolls have to shrink. Taxpayers can’t afford to provide salaries that far exceed averages for comparable positions in the private sector, then cover generous annual pay raises and pensions on top of that.

We’d much rather see all city workers take pay cuts and keep their jobs.

But if this is the path the unions want to take, so be it. Perhaps when newly laid off government employees see how bad things are in the private sector, they can warn their former colleagues to make a deal.

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