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September 3, 2015

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Las Vegas firefighters forgo COLA again, make $4 million in concessions

Local union members expected to ratify contract meetings tonight and Thursday night

Click to enlarge photo

Elizabeth "Betsy" Fretwell

Click to enlarge photo

Bob Coffin

The Las Vegas City Council today ratified a new agreement with Las Vegas Firefighters Local 1285 that cuts a little more than $4 million from the budget and — for the third year in a row — will mean no cost-of-living increase for firefighters.

“It’s a fair deal and it’s good for both sides,” Dean Fletcher, the union’s president, said Wednesday following the city council’s unanimous decision to ratify the contract.

Fletcher said the 610 firefighters in the union are expected to ratify the vote at special meetings tonight and Thursday night, capping months of negotiations, which were actually at an impasse earlier this year.

However, they were able to avoid arbitration and reached an agreement, according to City Manager Betsy Fretwell.

“We feel very good about this agreement and we worked very hard to get to it,” Fretwell said. “What it does is it creates stability in the fire department budget.”

Under the key terms of the contract, city firefighters have agreed to have their medical benefits trimmed from $450 per pay period to $360 per pay period, plus receive those for 24 instead of 26 weeks, saving $1.4 million; plus having their uniform allowances reduced by $900,000.

Firefighters will also have to wait eight days after taking a sick leave day to be able to take any overtime pay. Previously they had to wait three days. That will save $520,000.

Starting firefighters will see their pay be reduced to $16.07 an hour, a 5 percent reduction. There will also be a 50 percent reduction in step increases on the firefighter salary schedule, resulting in a savings of $450,000.

Previously, paramedics were paid for filling out documentation paperwork, but that extra pay will end, saving $450,000 in the budget.

Fretwell said the agreement was reached, in part, to prevent a “brownout” schedule, in which certain units would be taken out of service because of budget concerns.

“We will use the savings from this agreement to be able to plumb back up that budget and to be able to provide the services that are necessary,” Fretwell said. However, she said that the fire chief will still be able to brown out some units as needed, at his discretion, to deliver services in the most efficient manner.

“It’s my hope that the savings from the contract will cover the service of the department,” she said.

Councilman Steve Wolfson asked if the service levels will be maintained at the same levels, even with the reduction.

Fretwell said the service would have been affected without the agreement.

“I think everybody has been struggling in their departments,” Fretwell said. “You can’t go through a 20 percent reduction over three years and not feel it.”

She said she hoped the new budget would help the department be able to hire some new firefighters and cut back on the work load faced by existing firefighters.

Councilman Bob Coffin said when he first decided to run for the council last year, he had heard stories about firefighters gaming the system and calling in sick and allowing other firefighters to take overtime and creating huge salaries. However, Coffin said he has found that the city’s fire department didn’t have the same problems along those lines that the Clark County Fire Department had.

“Our contract had already been written so that you could not have those abuses that we were seeing with the county firefighters, but all firefighters were being painted with the same brush,” Coffin said.

Las Vegas Fire Chief Mike Myers agreed with Coffin, saying they did a review of the sick leave/overtime situation for the city and “I was very satisfied, very happy, very proud of the way Las Vegas firefighters are handling their sick leave and their overtime.”

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