Las Vegas Sun

July 29, 2015

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County finds unions’ raises were bigger than believed

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Don Burnette

After union officials expressed disbelief at a county report finding the average wage increases for thousands of union members since 2008 had totaled 12.5 percent, county officials Friday had to agree.

In reality, the average wage increases for the union, which is negotiating a new contract with the county, were slightly higher.

Correcting themselves, county administrators said 3,947 members of the Service International Employees union did not receive average wage increases of 12.5 percent in the past three years.

The average is really 12.6 percent.

To leave no doubt, administrators put together an elaborate spreadsheet showing every SEIU member, what they earned in 2008 and what they earned as of October 5, 2011.

“There should no longer be a dispute over wages for SEIU members over the last three years,” Don Burnette, county manager, said. “And the longer it takes to negotiate a contract, the more likely it is we have to consider budget cuts that we don’t want to consider.”

More specifically, he added, those cuts would mean layoffs.

Nick Di Archangel, SEIU spokesman, called Burnette’s layoffs comment a “threat.”

Last week, Di Archangel referred to the county’s 12.5 percent figure as “cooked up.” After hearing the new average was 12.6 percent, he said he hadn’t seen the spreadsheet but the union is doing its own analysis.

One thing the union has already found, he said, is that since 2008, unfilled union jobs and union concessions have helped the county save up to $600 million. He repeated the union’s belief that the county has more money stashed in “funds” than it is letting on.

“We know there’s a shell game going on, and we’re working on it and we think we have examples of it,” he said.

In an email obtained by the Sun entitled “Bargaining Report,” Assistant County Manager Ed Finger summarized Thursday’s union/county negotiation meeting to county commissioners.

He said the county offered to meet several times in the next two weeks, all of which were rejected by the union. So the next meeting is Oct. 27. County Commissioner Steve Sisolak groaned about the delay, saying the longer a deal isn’t worked out, the longer the county keeps paying union members under terms of the current contract.

Finger also outlined proposals offered by each side:

• The union wants 2 percent merit raises and 2 percent cost-of-living increases in fiscal year 2012 and 2013. It also wants longevity pay untouched.

• The county wants to give no merit, cost-of-living or longevity-pay increases for one year, and wants to eliminate longevity pay for new hires.

Sisolak said he can’t see why this is a problem, since no one sees their wages cut. And to him, eliminating longevity for future employees “is the most important thing.”

“That will set up a new group of employees that finally won’t get these benefits that we simply can’t afford anymore,” he said. “But the changes won’t affect a single SEIU member today.”

The union is loath to touch longevity pay, Di Archangel noted, for precisely the reason Sisolak alluded to: Once it’s gone, it would be hard to get back.

“It’s the beginning of eliminating longevity,” Di Archangel said.

Seen as a recruiting incentive, longevity might not seem as necessary during a bad economy, he added, but when in better times, it could become a recruiting necessity.

“We don’t know what the economy is going to look like,” he added. “If it improves, longevity could be important again.”

Watching all this from the sidelines, private businesses are wide-eyed with wonder, said Carole Vilardo of the Nevada Taxpayers Association. None of her business members, and even non-members she knows, have given out raises for years.

“And if they have, it’s usually at the expense of a benefit,” she added. “And then, no one has given out (any raises) close to what these unions are getting.”

More than anything, she doesn’t understand the union’s insistence on any wage increase in the face of potential layoffs.

“Having listened to all the cries about not wanting layoffs and agreeing with that, you would think there would be some concessions to hold the line so you don’t have layoffs,” she said. “That is something I am very surprised at.”

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