At an impasse: SEIU wants to preserve longevity pay

It has taken four years of brutal economic decline, but some local public employee unions finally are changing their thinking when bargaining for compensation. They have realized they can’t have it all, after all.

But Al Martinez is not among the enlightened. The president of the Service Employees International Union local that represents most Clark County employees is stuck in recession denial. And as a result, contract talks with the county are at an impasse.

The old union negotiating standard was to keep what you’ve got, then keep getting more, faster than before. Any proposal to reduce the rate of compensation growth, let alone hold the line, was quickly condemned in over-the-top fashion as an attempt to punish hardworking, middle-class public servants, never mind that most of the rank and file had left the middle class behind years ago.

But with tax collections flat or in decline, the private sector devastated and no recovery in sight, the old tactics don’t play nearly as well. Contract terms that keep increasing payrolls enrage taxpayers and all but guarantee layoffs. Many union chiefs are dialing back their rhetoric and their demands to keep members working until that elusive recovery finally arrives.

The Las Vegas Police Protective Association last week joined the handful of other local unions that have agreed to do away with longevity pay — raises awarded based on service beyond eight years and piled on top of other salary increases — for future hires. It’s a move that preserves the benefit for current workers by providing some long-term savings for taxpayers.

In negotiations with Mr. Martinez, Clark County offered the union a 1 percent “merit” pay raise (which is to say it’s all but guaranteed) in the first year and a 3 percent merit raise in the second year in exchange for eliminating longevity pay for future hires.

But Mr. Martinez won’t budge on preserving gravy for workers who haven’t even been hired and won’t be eligible for the benefit for a decade or more. It’s worth so much down the line — the premiums now cost county taxpayers $35 million per year — that Mr. Martinez offered to accept a freeze on cost-of-living adjustments this year and a 1.5 percent COLA for the second year to keep longevity.

Mr. Martinez ripped the county for seeking long-term relief in a short-term contract, saying the proposal to eliminate longevity pay “wasn’t really about monetary benefits or cost savings.” Huh?

SEIU members have seen their salaries grow 12.6 percent since 2009 despite the recession. No one is proposing cuts.

The county’s management is right to demand the end of longevity pay for future hires. Mr. Martinez’s refusal to acknowledge the valley’s new economic reality reflects poorly on him and his members.

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