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Benjamin Spillman

LVCVA to consider pact for union staff

14 July 2009

LAS VEGAS, Nevada –- Union workers for Las Vegas' biggest booster group would get a raise under a proposed new labor contract despite a hiring freeze and other cuts at an organization that has slashed revenue projections 26.7 percent in the past 12 months.

The board of directors at the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority today will consider a new five-year contract for about 350 Service Employees International Union workers.

The workers perform custodial, landscaping, security, plumbing, electrical, engineering and customer-service work, among other tasks, and are on the front lines of interaction with some of Las Vegas' most lucrative visitors -- people who host and attend conventions at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

The raise, if the contract is approved, will be considerably less than the workers originally bargained for when they went into contract talks in May 2008.

"Obviously, what we want is good for management as well," union spokesman Al Martinez said. "We want a healthy agency."

The authority recently cut programs, overtime and other expenses to make a $231.2 million 12-month budget in May, a decline of 11 percent from the previous year's budget.

The negotiations with SEIU were long and difficult largely because talks coincided with the unraveling of the national economy and a steep downturn in visitation and visitor spending.

Union negotiators were angling for raises as management was cutting budgets to keep pace with declining revenue.

"It was a constant," Mark Olson, the authority's vice president of human resources, said of the economic cloud over the proceedings. "I would suggest that is what took so long."

In March the two sides reached an impasse, with labor asking for 3 percent annual raises and management insisting on a straight pay-for-performance model, Olson said.

Unable to reach agreement, the two sides called in a neutral mediator.

After mediation, they agreed to a five-year deal with a 1 percent annual raise for the most recent fiscal year that would be paid, retroactively, by six months. Going forward, workers would get a 1.5 percent raise for July to December this year and a 1 percent raise for January to June 2010, according to authority records.

That translates to a total additional cost to the authority of $278,500. After June 2010, the wage portion of the contract is up for negotiation again.