Nevada government workers earned more in 2009 | NevadaAppeal.com
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Nevada government workers earned more in 2009

LAS VEGAS (AP) – A state report says government employees in Nevada saw their pay increase in 2009 while the average privately employed Nevadan took a pay cut.

The Nevada Department of Employment Training and Rehabilitation report says the average private sector wage declined $13 a week, from $804 to $791. Local government employees made $47 more a week than they did in 2008, when their average pay was $949.

Federal employees at Nevada work sites got a $15 average increase to $1,216 and state employees got a $17 increase, to $1,006.

In Clark County, private sector wages dropped $18 a week to $790, while local government wages climbed $62 a week to $1,052.

Las Vegas City Manager Betsy Fretwell said she wasn’t surprised by the report because automatic pay increases are typically included in public employees’ union contracts.

“Anything that is automatic, that we have to live up to regardless of revenue sources, will contribute. Whether it’s a COLA (cost-of-living adjustment), or step increase, or longevity, it will create that disparity,” Fretwell said.

Mike Ward, research director for the Service Employees International Union of Nevada, said the report is evidence that many private employees aren’t getting paid what they deserve.

“Looking at those numbers, it would appear that the private sector needs to organize more,” Ward said. “The lack of union density means they are not going to get the kind of wages of those who have unions to advocate for them.”

Steve Hill, chairman of the state policy task force of the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, said the state data confirms a private-public salary gap the chamber has shown in its own studies. He said the report is evidence is state lawmakers need to rein in public employees’ salaries.

“There are 180,000 people out of work who aren’t even counted in these numbers, and I would think it is difficult for them to not be offended by the fact that local government continues to get raises although they already make more for the same job than people in the private sector,” he said. “It needs to be rectified. It will be painful and politically difficult, but the state Legislature controls the law that controls the collective bargaining process.”

Fretwell noted that the two agreements the city reached recently after negotiations with firefighters and marshals do not contain cost-of-living raises and the city is doing what it can to cut costs, but its hands are tied in a way the private sector’s is not.

“I am not aware that many private sector companies build in automatic raises,” she said. “We are required to negotiate on wages by state law, and past practice is a key to what issues we have to negotiate. There have been decades of past practice that affect that.”