Firefighters’ labor dispute reaches absurd low

The Las Vegas firefighters’ union and city management aren’t on good terms these days. Negotiations for a new contract were so unproductive that an impasse was declared. Such discord is par for the course in public-sector collective bargaining, especially when the flow of tax revenue has slowed to a trickle.

But the union’s chest-puffing tactics have crossed into the surreal, just as the Fire Department is making a case for expanded duties that would require more public spending.

City officials, in trying to improve efficiency and make local government run more like a business, last year touted a “gain sharing” program that awarded one-time bonuses for workers who’ve sacrificed to help meet budget targets and maintain services. More than 500 union and nonunion city workers accepted the bonuses, worth hundreds of dollars.

We aren’t fans of the program because the city still has big near-term deficits to deal with, an underfunded maintenance budget and personnel costs that remain unsustainable.

It turns out, the International Association of Firefighters Local 1285 didn’t care much for the idea of bonuses as well – but not because they thought it was poor stewardship of tax money. The union filed a 10-page complaint with the Nevada Local Government Employee-Management Relations Board, alleging city management’s public comments about gain sharing amounted to a bad-faith attempt to “influence bargaining by communicating directly with the employees.”

The city’s response, filed Jan. 7, says there was no bargaining to influence – the two sides already were at impasse.

Refusing a bonus, offered on top of already generous salaries and benefits the county’s more than 100,000 unemployed taxpayers would beg for, because you want even more is poor form in this economy. The state board likely will need a year to sort through this nonsense – at public expense.

But there’s a larger issue here for the city. A study on the Fire Department’s efficiency, completed last year over the opposition of the union, suggests that the city either take over all medical transports from private-sector ambulance company American Medical Response or get out of medical transport altogether – an approach that would save taxpayers between $14 million and $18 million per year. The City Council just heard and accepted the report last week.

Why in the world would the city even consider rewarding the firefighters’ union with more duties, more money, more negotiating leverage and more political power – while killing private-sector paramedic jobs – when the union spits on undeserved generosity because it’s not enough?

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