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December 20, 2014

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UMC labor contract is rejected over issue of longevity pay

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Sam Morris

The entrance to University Medical Center’s trauma unit and emergency room is shown in 2009.

A divided Clark County Commission rejected a collective bargaining agreement covering 85 percent of University Medical Center’s workforce today over concerns about the inclusion of longevity pay for new hires, a benefit that is paid out to long-term employees.

The issue: Clark County commissioners considered a new three-year collective bargaining agreement for nurses and other nonmanagement staff at University Medical Center.

The vote: A motion to approve the contract failed 3 to 4, with Commissioners Steve Sisolak, Larry Brown, Susan Brager and Mary Beth Scow in opposition.

What it means: Hospital management and union representatives are headed back to the bargaining table to negotiate a revised contract that can gain majority support from commissioners.

The proposed deal presented Tuesday covered 3,365 employees at UMC through July 1, 2016, and included a series of three cost-of-living increases of 1.5 percent and 2 percent spread out over the life of the contract. The cost-of-living increases were expected to cost the county about $10.9 million.

Although commissioners were supportive of the cost-of-living increases, several took issue with the continuation of longevity pay for new hires at the hospital.

Longevity pay had been a common benefit added to collective bargaining agreements that rewarded long-term employees. In UMC’s current contract, full-time employees receive a an annual longevity payment worth 0.57 percent of their salary after eight years working at the hospital.

But the county has made a practice of phasing out longevity benefits in more recent union contracts, removing the perk for new hires in contracts with at least one dozen bargaining groups since 2002, including the fire department, the district attorney’s office and non-union employees.

Sisolak called longevity an “antiquated benefit that I think has outlived its original stated purpose.”

Hospital management and representatives for the Service Employees International Union Local 1107 both supported the deal presented to commissioners, framing longevity as a useful benefit to help retain workers who could seek higher pay at private hospitals.

Brown said he’d like to see the longevity benefit, which costs the hospital about $10 million, eliminated from the contract, with any savings being redirected toward increasing employee salaries to be more competitive with the private sector.

Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani was one of three board members to support the contract, along with Lawrence Weekly and Tom Collins.

Giunchigliani emphasized that employees and hospital management negotiated for the longevity benefit and agreed to keep it in the contract. Although it’s not a perfect solution, she said it’s necessary at least until something can be done about increasing employee salaries.

“That’s the whole point of collective bargaining,” she said. “What works for one group is not necessary for the others. If the others gave (longevity) up that’s their choice for their membership at that time. I think we’ve heard pretty clearly from these folks.”

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