Tuesday, April 29, 2014 | 2 a.m.
North Las Vegas firefighters vote this week on a city settlement that would pay them pennies on the dollar for lost wages.
Firefighter union President Jeff Hurley is confident his members will approve the deal. The firefighters’ settlement is one of four agreements hammered out between city leaders and its unions during marathon negotiations hosted by Gov. Brian Sandoval this month. The deals helped North Las Vegas balance its 2014-15 budget and avert a state takeover.
If workers approve the settlement, firefighters and other employees will give up $10 million in concessions. That includes forgoing millions the city owed to public safety employees after a Clark County District Court ruled the city illegally suspended pay raises during a 2012 financial emergency.
More concessions could be in store for firefighters when talks start again on the next contract that begins July 1, 2015. One sticking point could be a requirement that North Las Vegas firefighters live within the city’s limits. A 2012 analysis by the Sun found 92 percent of fire employees lived outside the city.
The Sun sat down with Hurley to discuss the settlement, future negotiations and the state of North Las Vegas’ fire department.
Your recent settlement came after a day of negotiations at Gov. Brian Sandoval’s office. Can you talk about what happened that day that led to a deal?
There’s been this portrayal that we got called to the principal’s office. That wasn’t what happened. The initial conversation was "Can you give us where we’re at and what’s going on?"
We talked about the meat and potatoes, or the lack thereof, at our meetings (with the city). I think it was a bit of an eye opener for the state officials. I think when they had conversations on both sides, they were able to set some things straight for some groups and say "This needs to get done." You can use my office. The Department of Taxation is here. Any questions or concerns that any party has we can get hammered out right now, let’s get it going.
What were the last issues between the firefighters union and the city that were resolved?
We never really had any major issues. It was just getting it all worked out. The big thing we wanted to do because of our staffing levels is make sure we keep people employed. People don’t understand that even though our decreased level of service hurts the citizens, it also hurts firefighters. We have a ton of on-the-job injuries right now because we’re having to do so much more with less. Those are areas you can’t quantify, but in the end, it still costs the taxpayers money if you have (injured) firefighters who are having to have surgeries on their shoulders, their back, their neck, their knees.
The union is receiving millions less than it was owed from the settlement over the frozen raises. How are you selling that agreement to your members?
There’s no pitch. There’s no salesmanship to it. It’s just "Here’s where we’re at." They understand the city is trying to reboot or reset itself to start moving forward. It wasn’t that we were looking for a better deal. The city’s trying to offset the mistake that it made.
How have previous cuts in firefighter staffing affected the department?
We’re browning out five to six rescues a day. We’re so short staffed that they haven't been open in quite some time. When we have large-scale fires, one fire will tie up over half of the city’s units. It does affect response times.
How would you feel about a contractual requirement that North Las Vegas firefighters live in the city?
We’re not opposed to it. People live in different portions of the valley, whether it’s for a school they want their kids to go to, a Little League they want to go to, whether they’re living by family and friends. I think we have to be cognizant of the other side of where people want to live.
We’re interested in talking about that, but the hypocrisy of that is a majority of the city management doesn’t live within the city itself. I’d want to see them all move in, too. I want to see them live up to the same thing they’re asking us to do.
High pay to firefighters and other employees has been criticized as contributing to the city’s financial troubles. Do you think that criticism is fair?
When you talk about six figures, that will include salaries and benefits. That’s like taking your 401(k) and your insurance and putting that out there. But what people read, they see that number that firefighters make $200,000 and they have everyone believing we’re millionaires.
The fact of the matter is, the amount of hours these guys are working is like working two jobs. We can’t control as a union how many people get hired. If we’re at the bare minimum right now and we have eight engines, we have to have a butt in that seat. If we don’t have extra personnel to do it, then we have to bring someone in on overtime.