Reno, Nev. (MyNews4.com & KRNV)--The cost of negotiating labor contracts could go up again. The Reno City Council may consider paying up to $600,000 to an outside labor law firm, Fisher & Phillips to handle it's labor union negotiations. The item was pulled for procedural reasons and was continued until June 25th.
In January 2013, the Council approved retaining the services of the firm. At the time, the price of the contract was up to $150,000. One year later, in February 2014, the Council agreed to extend the contract and double the fee to as much as $300,000. The extension would take the contract into June 2015.
The City of Reno has nine labor unions and has been in negotiations with six of those unions for more than a year. Two of the organizations have recently concluded fact finding, which is the initial stage of heading into arbitration. The staff report for the agenda item doubling the fee again said the City might proceed to fact finding with the four remaining organizations if an agreement is not reached in the near future.
Two of the unions that have been in the spotlight are the Reno Police Protective Association and the Reno Fire Fighters Association. Retired Police Officer and RPPA Chief Negotiator, Ron Dreher said the expenditure was a waste of taxpayer money as the process provides no incentive for the outside firm to come to terms with the bargining units, "There's no reason in the world to resolve a collective bargining agreement. They have a lot of reasons in the world to make $400 and some odd dollars an hour on the City's dime or the taxpayer's dime." The RPPA President Jason Soto agrees, "What I see happening, if it continues on this route, I see it costing the City and the taxpayers a lot of money will the end of time because it costs a lot of money to negotiate with lawyers from out of state that charge $400 or so an hour." The Reno Fire Fighters' Association echoed that sentiment. (See statement below)
We invited City Manager Andrew Clinger and Reno Mayor Bob Cashell to explain why this expense is warranted. We are still waiting to hear from them. Meanwhile, Reno City Council member Dwight Dortch said hiring an outside firm provides needed expertise to get labor costs under control. He said, "It's about having the right team at the table at these contract negotiations. We're not talking about the impact over the next year, we have to live with these contracts forever and we've got to get them under control."
Statement from the Reno Fire Fighters' Associations: "The Reno Fire Fighters' Association feels the City of Reno is not properly prioritizing public safety for the citizens of Reno. The action to approve additional spending of hundreds of thousands of dollars on outside legal counsel against its own employees reflects yet another questionable decision from the City Manager's office. This action comes after the Reno Fire Fighters' Association made double-digit concessions during the economic downturn. It was our understanding and expectation the City is slowly recovering financially and we could expect a productive working relationship with long term goals of enhancing public safety and employee recovery. This is simply a waste of City funds and not in the best interests of our community." Dennis Jacobsen, President IAFF-Reno Fire Fighters' Association
Statement from the City of Reno notes yesterday's agenda item was continued to June 25th for procedural reasons. Six Council members were not present, which did not meet the City Charter requirement to vote on that particular item.