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July 29, 2015

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County, SEIU reach deal: Merit pay cut, longevity stays

A proposed two-year contract between Clark County and its unionized service employees appears to provide better benefits to future employees at the expense of raises for the union’s current 5,000 workers.

The pact with Service Employees International Union would represent a big change from an offer Clark County made to the union last year, which resulted in a stalemate between management and the union and then mediation. In that deal, the county offered merit raises of 1 percent in the first year and 3 percent in the second year, but only if the union gave up longevity pay for future employees.

Union negotiators didn’t like the idea of eliminating longevity pay and came back with this deal, which erases merit raises in the first two years but preserves longevity for new hires. Longevity pay for current employees will be frozen for one year, meaning workers will still receive longevity pay but the rate won’t increase for two years. It also eliminates cost-of-living adjustments for two years.

For the county, the new deal will save about $20.4 million over the next two years. Over the long term, county sources say, the eliminated merit pay offset the cost associated with the preservation of longevity pay. (New hires are not eligible for longevity pay until eight years after they start their job.)

So was it a good deal for the union?

Nick Di Archangel, union spokesman, said it is what the membership wanted. He expects union members to vote on the deal within the next two weeks.

“The members had indicated to us all along that longevity for new hires was a priority,” he said.

With political winds seemingly against public employee unions, Di Archangel said SEIU is “feeling pretty good about what we were able to achieve in this climate.”

“It’s about giving longevity to the next employees,” he added. “I’ve been getting little anonymous thank-yous for this. We feel that nothing is impossible anymore.”

The relatively large savings also decreases the possibility of more layoffs in the next year.

Don Burnette, Clark County manager, called it a “good deal for the county.”

“I know we didn’t get longevity, but it gives us savings we need short-term and long-term,” he added. “It also goes a long way toward eliminating the prospect of laying people off. The sooner we get the deal in place, the better we’ll be in that regard.”

If Commissioner Steve Sisolak’s reaction is an indication, commissioners will favor the deal.

“I’m glad it’s a two-year deal,” he said. Contracts in recent years have only been one-year deals. “And it’s going to provide savings and keep us from going to fact-finding or arbitration, where you never know what’s going to happen.

The deal takes care of the SEIU through June 30, 2013. That doesn’t mean the county can rest. Nor can the SEIU. The union’s roughly 2,000 employees at University Medical Center are also in mediation over a county contract. And in two weeks, negotiations begin anew with the county firefighters union.

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