City officials use the term “wage re-opener” clause. Union officials scoff at that and call it a “me too” provision.

Either way, it’s been enough to keep the two entities battling quietly behind the scenes for nearly a year over one issue in the rank-and-file employee contract between Teamsters Union #14 and the City of Mesquite. Now, both sides are headed to a Clark County District Court hearing set for Jan. 26.

When the current employee contract was signed in 2014 and made retroactive to July 1, 2013, both the Union and the City agreed that 60 general employees covered by the contract would not receive a pay increase for fiscal year 2013-2014. The City claimed it was broke and couldn’t afford any raises.

City employees last received a 2.25 percent general wage increase in July 1, 2012.

However, a provision in the contract language stipulates “if any other group receives any monetary gain in the negotiated collective bargaining agreements for 2013/14 – 2015/16, other than for a necessary job reclassification, an equal monetary gain shall be given to all employees subject to this Agreement.” Hence the Union’s term “me too.”

But City officials, primarily attorney Robert Sweetin, insist that step increases included in the union contracts for the Mesquite Police Officers Association (MPOA) and the Mesquite Fire & Rescue Department, also covered by Teamsters Union #14, are not considered “wage” increases and therefore should not trigger the contract clause.

Grant Davis, Vice President/Director of Operations, Teamsters Local #14, told the Mesquite Local News in a telephone interview that the rank-and-file employees should be given the same type of step increases that the Police and Fire employees received. “We want to negotiate with the city under that premise and include the same disciplinary language as the Police and Fire contracts have,” Davis said.

“We are disappointed in the direction these negotiations have taken. Even though the city wants to continue negotiating under the ‘re-opener’ clause, the ‘me too’ language is clear,” he said.

Sweetin insisted to the MLN in a meeting last week that step increases cannot be considered a wage increase. “Not all employees in the Police and Fire Departments received step increases. Most of them did, but not all,” Sweetin said. “The step increases instituted last year simply put those employees on par with other departments. Our employees were making significantly less than other cities and we were losing some of our first responders to those places.”

Sweetin also said the step increases are subject to “years of service and disciplinary history” and were not across-the-board wage increases.

Step increases included in the Police and Fire contracts averaged between 4 and 5 percent. The

MPOA contract was settled in December 2014 and the Teamsters #14 contract for Fire & Rescue was signed in February 2015. The Police step increases were retroactive to July 1, 2014 while Fire & Rescue employees received theirs retroactive to July 1, 2013.

According to court documents obtained by the MLN “In March of 2015 Teamsters concluded that both the police and firefighter bargaining units received ‘monetary gain’ in their new bargaining agreements which would entitle the Non-supervisors and M-1 and M-2 unit members to receive ‘equal monetary gain’ pursuant to the ‘Me Too’ clauses of the bargaining agreements.”

“We have been running budget deficits the last few years,” City Manager Andy Barton said. “The Teamsters rank-and-file union is our biggest bargaining unit. Any pay raises will have a significant impact on our budget, somewhere in the six figures.”

Barton also said that the city has not hired any outside counsel as it did when negotiating the original contract in 2013. That ended up costing the city approximately $88,000. This time negotiations are being handled in-house by Sweetin.

“We were set to go to arbitration the first week of December with an arbitrator already selected,” Davis said. However, the arbitrator had a medical emergency and pulled out. Davis claims that when it came to appointing a new arbitrator the city would not agree telling the union to file a grievance instead. “We think time limitations had something to do with that reversal,” Davis said.

Indeed, court documents contain copies of several emails between Sweetin and Davis in early- and mid-2015 supporting the Teamsters’ contention. However, the City’s legal response says “The City began preparing for arbitration. Upon doing so, the City was informed by the City Manager’s office that Plaintiff (the Union) never filed a grievance or complaint as contractually required under the agreement to arbitrate.”

The Union contends it was not required to file a grievance and has not done so. Instead it filed a “Motion to Compel Arbitration” with the Clark County District Courts and an unfair bargaining complaint with the Employee Management Relations Board (EMRB). The City then filed an “Opposition to Motion to Compel Arbitration.” Hence the Jan. 26 hearing.

The City quotes the Union contract in its Opposition document saying “a grievance concerning rates of pay covered by this Agreement shall be presented within fifteen (15) working days of the date the employee could reasonably be expected to discover the alleged improper payment. Complaints not filed within this time limit shall be rendered invalid and not subject to the grievance and arbitration machinery herein established.”

Both Sweetin and Davis said they had agreed in the past that any increases in pay, whether it’s called a ‘wage increase’ or a ‘me too’ provision will be retroactive only to July 1, 2014 and not the beginning date of the contract, July 1, 2013.

The difference in one year’s pay increases “is a sizable amount of money for the city,” Barton said.

However, Davis told the MLN that if the issue ends up in arbitration the union will insist the ‘me too’ interpretation must be retroactive to 2013.

Both sides have said they are willing to extend the current contract one year to 2017 past its expiration date now set for June 30, pending the outcome of the current litigation. Neither side wants to begin new contract negotiations while they are still hammering out an issue on the old contract.