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Mayor: City to move forward on employee job cuts

Goodman tells city manager to ‘aggressively address’ shortfall

Updated Wednesday, April 21, 2010 | 2:02 p.m.

After several months of trying, Mayor Oscar Goodman today gave up on his quest to save 141 city employee jobs from layoffs, directing the city manager to go ahead and balance the city's budget.

"We tried. We tried. But the window is closed. And the door is slammed. And now we're going to straighten out our financial situation together," Goodman said in a short statement this afternoon at the Las Vegas City Council meeting.

Council members had just returned from a closed personnel session, where they heard that the Las Vegas City Employees Association, the largest city employee union, had voted Tuesday night not to reopen its contract and give the city any concessions.

For months, the city had asked the four unions to consider taking an 8 percent salary cut for the next two years, plus take no cost of living increase nor any other automatic pay increases this year in order to balance the city's budget for the 2011 fiscal year, which begins July 1. The concessions would keep the city from laying off 141 employees and cut programs, as already tentatively approved by the city council in early March.

The LVCEA had been negotiating with the city's staff since that time and had proposed some concessions that amounted to $8.7 million, although the city wanted $16 million in concession from that union's members. However, the union's members met Tuesday night and decided not to give in to any salary concessions — partially because some of them though Goodman had been using "heavy handed tactics," said Don King, LVCEA president.

"The ball is actually in the city's court at this point," King had said this morning prior to the mayor's announcement.

King said he informed City Manager Betsy Fretwell this morning about the union's decision.

"She indicated she was not a happy camper. She said she was going to balance the budget," King said. "I don't know if we're going to have more layoffs done to us now as repercussions."

Goodman said this afternoon that the city council has instructed Fretwell to "further reduce our fiscal year 2011 year budget. We've directed her to aggressively address the shortfall that is growing rapidly as a result of declining revenues and ever-increasing labor costs.

"She's been instructed to look at every corner of the city, sparing no one in contributing to the reduction in the shortfall," Goodman said.

He praised the executive and appointive employees for being the first to step up with a plan to address the shortfall. He said they felt the brunt of most of the labor costs during the last two to three years in their pay structure.

"They haven't received any raises, no COLAs, no steps. And this is not the case with our other employee group. I don't expect them to give any more than they've already addressed to the shortfall," Goodman said.

He said that's consistent with the message that went out to all employees — that all employee groups should be treated equally.

"We've had two labor groups tell us no to reducing our labor costs, and we bear that in mind as well in this process," Goodman said. "As Ms. Fretwell works to identify the additional cuts that will be necessary to begin to balance our budget more quickly, I'll ask her to keep those prior sacrifices in mind.

"As your mayor, and I speak with the council's approval, we do not want to leave this city in a terrible state for the next group of elected officials.

We feel it's our duty, myself, and the duty of the council, to begin to bring our finances in line with what the private sector economy has so that we will have a sustainable city for generations to come. The one we have right now isn't sustainable and we have to do more now to bring things back into balance."

Goodman said the council wanted to communicate that message to all employees and to the leaders of the bargaining units and develop a much more modest Fiscal Year 2011 budget for council consideration in May "as a result of our inability to curtail our labor cost with negotiation and concessions."

The city has until mid-May to submit the budget to the state. Under the tentative plan, employees would lose their jobs on May 12. The council is scheduled to talk about budgets and employee layoffs on May 5.

"The best guess that I have is that the 94 people (in the union) will be laid off," King said.

King had taken a concession offer to the city a few weeks ago that amounted to an $8.7 million concession from his members. The union offered to forego its contract for a 3 percent cost of living increase next year and have each employee take 96 hours of unpaid furlough, which amounts to one day a month.

However, during a meeting last night of the members, 394 of the 565 members who attended, or 69.8 percent, voted to give the city no concessions, King said.

He said there were two reasons the concessions offer was killed.

"Number one, no matter what kind of concession that we gave, the city would give no guarantee that it would save any of our bodies," he said. "One of the other reasons, I had people come to the mic to say they were more than willing to give concessions until Oscar Goodman started his strong-arm tactics.”

King said he was referring to Goodman's effort to have the city attorney look into the legal possibility of firing all city employees, then hire back the ones who would agree to work a reduced work week. Goodman later dropped that idea.

The city's goal is to save roughly $29.7 million and the unions' offers have amounted to $10 million, leaving a $19.7 million difference.

Until Tuesday night, the city and the LVCEA were about $8 million apart in their differences. King said before the vote to grant no concessions Tuesday night, he was poised to give members another alternative that would be closer to what the city said it needed from the union.

That second offer was for a 1 percent cost-of-living increase and members would have gone to a 36-hour work schedule, working four days a week, nine hours a day, King said. That concession would have been for $16.5 million, King said.

He said that second offer came from the mayor's discussion about having employees go to a reduced work week.

He said the plan was to ask members if they wanted to grant concessions, then present both plans to them as alternatives. But the first vote against giving any concessions made it unnecessary to vote on the concessions, he said.

"One of the comments was that a lot of the membership had lost trust in city management, just by the way this has been done," King said.

King said some members took some offense this morning to a Goodman joke during a ceremonial part of the city council meeting.

He referred to Goodman's joke about one of the city employees being one of the first to take the plunge on the new ride at the Stratosphere, which opened to the public today.

"This is the way we're going to fix all of our budget problems. We're going to have all of our employees jump off the Stratosphere. And whoever survives can stay and whoever doesn't we won't miss them, believe me," Goodman said, smiling, before beginning the business part of the council meeting.

"Comments like that drive morale right into the basement," King said. "Oscar needs to stop that. Joking or not, it just gives folks the bad impression about the folks who are trying to provide services."

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