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April 28, 2015

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Hardball: Vegas City Hall edition

Union holdouts on payroll breaks prompt stern words

The message from the City Council to the unions Wednesday was twofold, and it couldn’t have been clearer if it had been spelled out by a skywriter:

You must work with us to trim future raises for your workers and get the city’s balance sheet in the black — under pain of bulk layoffs if you don’t.

And, agreeing to our terms won’t hurt that badly, we promise.

At a special meeting Oct. 6, Mayor Oscar Goodman and the council gave the four unions that represent the vast majority of city workers an ultimatum. Though union officials balked at reaching a resolution in less than two months, Goodman insisted.

At a closed-door meeting early Wednesday, council members got an update on negotiations with the roughly 1,500-member Las Vegas City Employees’ Association, as well as unions representing city firefighters, marshals and detention workers.

At the public council meeting that followed, staff outlined in broad strokes what had happened since October. In essence, Finance Director Mark Vincent and outgoing City Manager Doug Selby said, the employees association had played ball and the other unions had not.

Regular negotiation sessions with the employees association have occurred, Vincent said. Several council members said Association President Tommy Ricketts had recently sent them a letter indicating an accord was within reach.

The other unions had requested data from the city and hired a forensic accountant to verify that the city was in the desperate financial straits officials have described.

Serious negotiations with the three unions would have to wait until that study is completed and digested, which Goodman warned must happen before the council takes up the matter again Jan. 7.

This time, the mayor was as subtle as a tailgating, bright yellow Hummer.

“If we’re going to cut, I want to be prepared,” Goodman said. “I want names and positions of 5 percent from every department.”

As in, the 5 percent who will be fired if agreements can’t be reached.

Before the union situation was addressed, Vincent and Selby gave the council the latest details regarding the city’s economic fix.

The city is running a deficit of $30 million a year, and faces a projected $150 million shortfall over the next five years.

In response, city officials have found and eliminated $46.6 million in spending.

But the consolidated sales tax and the property tax, which combined make up 75 percent of the city’s revenue base, have both dropped considerably.

Without a fix from labor, Vincent said, the city could find itself bankrupt by 2013. Goodman replied that “as a council, we’re not going to allow this to happen.”

The good news is that there is an easy fix, officials insisted.

Right now, 93 percent of city workers receive a 3.5 percent cost of living adjustment annually, Vincent said in response to a question from Councilman Steve Wolfson. On average, including the additional merit and “step” raises — automatic pay bumps built into the salary scale for certain positions — many workers receive, wages are rising 4.7 percent per year.

All the unions have to agree to is cutting that total average raise by 1 percentage point. Do that, officials maintained, and all will be copacetic budget-wise.

The council may not have Luca Brasi from “The Godfather” at its disposal. But it is insisting it’s making the unions an offer they can’t refuse.

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