In Our View: Clark County Holds the Line

Enforcing new contract with IT workers was the right thing to do

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Clark County Commissioners Tom Mielke and Marc Boldt made the correct and courageous decision on Tuesday when they voted to enforce a bargaining agreement that had been rejected by the guild of information technology workers.Mielke and Boldt are Republicans, and Commissioner Steve Stuart — who opposed enforcing the new contract — is a Democrat. But this issue is not about conservatives or liberals. It's about representing — first — the people who elect you, and then the public servants whose managers you oversee. So it's refreshing to see Boldt and Mielke serve the public's best interests and hold the line against the guild.

Unfortunately, such fiscal rigidity is rare in modern governments where elected officials and union representatives engage in seemingly interminable negotiations before reaching a "compromise." Meanwhile, overburdened taxpayers are left unrepresented. Those agreements often include preservation of the status quo, unreasonable during these worst of economic times. Nonunion workers neither expect nor receive such preferential treatment.

The public wasn't left unrepresented on Tuesday, however, when Boldt and Mielke followed the recommendation of Human Resources Director Francine Reis and voted to enforce the new contract with the guild of about 40 members. It was the "last, best and final offer" after six meetings involving the county, the guild and a state mediator.

Stricken from the new contract is a provision that the county could not hire outside employees if doing so results in the layoff of guild workers or reduction in the number of their positions. Guild members opposed that change. They also don't like the fact that project employees now can be hired for no longer than two years; the old cap was 18 months. And they oppose the fact there is no cap on the work of temporary employees; previously, the cap was six months or 1,040 hours.

Stuart, in defending guild workers, said "there's no other guild we've pushed this hard." Our response: Why not? Doesn't he realize what dire financial straits the entire nation is in? Has he forgotten that the county has been forced by the lingering economic crisis to cut $63 million from its budget in the past five years and eliminate 270 positions?

Clark County Administrator Bill Barron said that during his 14 years with the county, commissioners had never enforced a contract that had been rejected by employees. Our response, again: Why not? What kind of negotiating is the county doing? Do they always give in? Who's looking out for the taxpayers?

Guild President Marian Croteau said "morale is at an all-time low" among guild members. Our response: Cheer up! You're employed! About 9 percent of the local workforce would love to join you.

To be clear, some sacrifices have been made by county workers who belong to 15 unions, including pay freezes and contributions to premiums for health care. There is still much more county commissioners could do to bring public employees more in line with private employees, but on Tuesday, at least they did something.