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September 15, 2019

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North Las Vegas approves tentative agreement with firefighters

Shari Buck

Shari Buck

After two delays and a city audit of fire department sick leave, the North Las Vegas City Council approved a tentative agreement Wednesday with the firefighters union to save the jobs of 33 firefighters.

The agreement calls for about $4 million in concessions from the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1607 in exchange for certain protections from the city, including barring layoffs through the contract period.

This round of concessions represents the union’s fifth in two years, union President Jeff Hurley said. Despite $21 million in previous concessions, the union is prepared to make more sacrifices in a sixth round, as the City Council wrestles with a $22.6 million budget deficit next year.

“We do not believe as firefighters that our responsibility with the city is done,” Hurley said. “We will continue to work with the city to find these solutions, so this tentative agreement, in our eyes, is not wiping our hands clean and walking away.”

Under the tentative agreement, firefighters will forgo a 3.75 percent cost-of-living raise for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. In addition, firefighters will give up yearly step increases and sick leave and holiday pay sell-backs.

In turn, the city committed to not making any layoffs and agreed not to privatize public safety functions such as ambulance transportation and fire inspections. The city also agreed to pay a 2.75 percent increase in the retirement contribution rate, provide an additional 75 hours of annual leave and increase sick leave payouts for firefighters.

The council voted 3-2 to approve the agreement. Councilmen William Robinson and Robert Eliason voted against it; both declined to comment.

Mayor Shari Buck, who has a record of voting with public safety unions, said she felt the council made the right decision to approve the tentative agreement.

“Saving jobs is really important. We’re just so bare bones around here,” Buck said. “We want to continue to provide the services that we need to, and it’s very difficult the more jobs you lose.”

Councilman Richard Cherchio, who has traded barbs with the public safety unions during the municipal elections, said he voted for the deal after considering how much money it would save the city.

“My decisions aren’t based on political reasons, whether they support me or not, or an olive branch,” he said.

The City Council postponed voting on the agreement in February and April to conduct an audit of the fire department’s use of sick days and overtime. The decision came days after Clark County officials said they discovered widespread abuse of sick leave among county firefighters.

The results of the city audit were announced in mid-April and found no pervasive abuse of sick leave. It found that last year, the 176 fire department employees took an average of 4.6 sick days per person and worked an average of 16 days of overtime.

Councilwoman Anita Wood sought the audit in February. “As a councilperson, I owe my constituents accountability and fiscal responsibility,” Wood said.

But in the next round of budget cuts, she said, the firefighters union could make more substantial concessions more in line with those made by the Teamsters Union.

“When you look at what the firefighters have done, they have definitely given back, and I’m not saying that they haven’t,” Wood said. “But they have not taken pay cuts. They have given back enough to save their positions, but they have not lost anything.”

In November, the city and Teamsters Local 14 reached a tentative agreement that saved the 145 union positions in exchange for $17.7 million in concessions, which amounted to an 8 percent pay cut, Wood said.

“It’s causing a great deal of tension in the city,” Wood said. “We’re looking at equity. Is it fair that you have one group — the Teamsters — that is sitting here taking pay cuts and two groups (firefighters and police) that are giving back enough to save their positions? It’s really causing a disparity.”

Cherchio agreed. “We all have to share in the sacrifices equally. All of our employees and their families are equally important to the city.”

Hurley defended the firefighters union, saying no other union in the city is making six rounds of concessions in two years. During the meeting, Hurley announced the firefighters union is prepared to offer a 5 percent pay cut in the upcoming round of budget negotiations.

“We’re back to the table,” Hurley said. “The first step was the 5 percent offer, but we still have a lot of work ahead of us. I don’t know if that will be enough.”

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