Unions not the problem, willing to help

Readers of the Review-Journal may have read of the major management problems we are experiencing in North Las Vegas. I’m afraid the solutions are beyond the abilities of our new city manager, Timothy Hacker.

It is important that readers understand, the firefighters of North Las Vegas accept every single one of the concessions requested by the North Las Vegas City Council.

To avoid confusion, these are the precise words Mr. Hacker himself wrote in his May 13 Review-Journal op-ed:

“Given these challenges, we asked our bargaining units’ help with a modest proposal. The city’s plan was simple:

“- Two-year freeze on annual raises.

“- Eliminate the ‘holiday sell-back’ program which allows employees to convert accrued holiday-leave banks into cash.

“- Place a moratorium on uniform allowances, asking employees to make do with the uniforms the city provides.”

Here is the response we gave Mr. Hacker: We accept.

For the record: We forgo a cost of living raise for the next two years. We forgo any cash value in exchange for unused vacation time. We forgo a uniform allowance for the next two years.

The only stipulation we make is that, in order to reduce costs to North Las Vegas taxpayers, our department be consolidated with another local fire department.

How did Mr. Hacker respond? He went to the media and reported that we had turned down the city’s offer.

That’s right, he intentionally misled the media.

So that readers understand, the notion of consolidation isn’t our idea. The North Las Vegas City Council publicly proposed a plan for consolidation of the North Las Vegas Police Department and jail services with Las Vegas police. We believe it will be far more cost-effective to instead consolidate the North Las Vegas Fire Department. Local fire services already share dispatch services with all of the other fire departments in Southern Nevada.

Unlike the police departments, we are not dispatched strictly according to city-to-city or city-to-county lines. Because rapid response is the most important determinant in saving lives in medical and fire emergencies, we are dispatched based on the team that is closest to the emergency. If you have a heart attack and you live in North Las Vegas, it may very well be that it is a Las Vegas emergency medical unit that shows up to save your life.

Of course there is another, broader problem.

In his op-ed, Mr. Hacker tries to lay the blame for the city’s problems at the foot of the unions, writing, “For months, North Las Vegas has tried feverishly to work with the four unions that represent our firefighters, police officers and other essential employees to avoid the situation we are in today.”

Mr. Hacker makes it sound pretty simple, implying that if the unions were willing to negotiate we wouldn’t be in this mess. What Mr. Hacker fails to mention is that the North Las Vegas firefighters and North Las Vegas police have given back more than $40 million to the taxpayers of North Las Vegas. What Mr. Hacker also fails to mention is that during the time of these massive give-backs by the unions, the City Council has been on a spending spree building a Taj Majal for a new City Hall, which will cost taxpayers $130 million, and a new water reclamation plant with a cost of $224 million.

Mr. Hacker also left out another detail that tends to diminish the credibility of the argument that North Las Vegas is strapped for cash – his own hiring. Mr. Hacker is being paid a $235,000 package per year. According to his contract, if he is fired (published reports indicate he was dismissed from the tiny city of Mesquite prior to stepping up to the 12-times-larger city of North Las Vegas), he will be paid six month’s severance. At a time when everyone in America is looking for places to cut, the City Council decided Mr. Hacker would not be able to do his job unless he also had an assistant who would be paid a $165,000 package per year.

What Mr. Hacker also fails to mention in his missive to the Review-Journal is that the city’s current plan is to cut fire positions by one-third. According to the Hacker Plan, delays in response times for emergency medical care such as heart attack or stroke will just have to increase.

We see a better way. It is much more cost-effective for taxpayers to consolidate. It was a tremendous success for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. It will save taxpayer dollars. Let’s not forget consolidation was the North Las Vegas City Council’s idea in the first place.

To date, we have taken no position on the state of Nevada’s threatened takeover of North Las Vegas, but it is increasingly clear a responsible entity is going to have to act quickly. We can’t go along with the Hacker Plan, cut emergency medical and fire services to the people of North Las Vegas, and play make believe that we still have a fire department.

Mr. Hacker sits in his lucrative top-floor office at City Hall looking down upon us and questioning why firefighters and police are so self-serving. How dare he do that! These are the public servants who kiss their families goodbye every day and risk their lives to protect our citizens.

To reiterate: We accept. Let’s go forward in a spirit of cooperation and find a way to help the people of North Las Vegas take care of their emergency services. Let’s start by telling the truth.

Capt. Jeff Hurley is president of North Las Vegas Firefighters Local 1607.

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