Four years and countless hours of negotiations should not have been required to settle Clark County's labor dispute with the Deputy Sheriffs' Guild, but now that it's over, let's take a look at the winners and losers.
More precisely, we'll focus on reviewing the victors because there really aren't any losers in this competition that was explained in a Thursday Columbian story by Stephanie Rice.
The gold medal goes to the taxpayers, who finally will see significant savings with the removal of an arcane contract clause. The guild's vacation buyback program was totally out of place in the climate of America's lingering economic crisis. Fortunately for taxpayers, the vacation buyback policy was essentially removed from the new contract. This program allowed guild members to sell back vacation days twice a year, and in 2008 (the year the previous contract expired), vacation buybacks cost the county a whopping $815,000 for all employees.
Taxpayers also won because they're seeing county officials getting tougher on contract negotiations. We've said for years that public employee unions — though making enough isolated sacrifices for union representatives to squawk about being treated unfairly — still have made nowhere near the sacrifices in pay and benefits that private sector workers have made. Remember, too, that in the private sector, more than 10 percent of Clark County workers are unemployed and would dearly love to have a contract to complain about.
The silver medal goes to the county for sticking to its guns in contract negotiations with deputies. And we hope when this new contract expires in six months, those negotiators will be just as rigid in representing the taxpayers. No one has yet tackled the governmental pension problems that are slowly strangling taxpayers, but we hope that will begin soon. This is a small but good start.
Kudos to Francine Reis, the county's director of human resources, for helping the county through difficult economic times. In the past five years, the budget has been trimmed by $63 million, with 270 positions eliminated.
Economic survival requires tough decisions. Earlier this year, in response to a recommendation by Reis, county commissioners (by a 2-1 vote) enforced a bargaining agreement that had been rejected by the guild of county information technology workers. Clark County Administrator Bill Barron said that, until this year, he hadn't seen an employee-rejected contract enforced by commissioners in the 14 years he has worked with the county.
The bronze medal goes to the guild that includes 129 deputies and sergeants. For the first time in four years, they have contract stability. They also receive 2 percent wage increases for both 2011 and 2012. And that 5 percent contribution they'll be making for health insurance premiums is below the 7 percent that other county workers are making. And it's far below the 28 percent that's standard among America's private sector workers.
Deputy Robert Mullikin, the guild president, said he wishes the new contract was more in the guild's favor. He also complained that, "The county can't seem to get people hired," and staffing remains low. But that issue is a management issue, not a guild issue. It's not the deputies' job to make sure the county is staffed properly. If the county wants to run short, it runs short.
Realistically speaking, the guild has something it hasn't had in four years: a contract.
The county and the guild will set aside their silver and bronze medals in six months and pursue a new contract. We hope they can help taxpayers win another gold.