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LV Metro comps Culinary Union over $195,000 in police costs

LAS VEGAS — Las Vegas Metro for the last year has loudly lobbied public officials for a sales tax increase and — claiming poverty — has even reduced its public law-enforcement activity.

All the while, however, the department was also gifting Culinary Union Local 226 with over $195,000 worth of free police services.

That’s enough to cover total compensation for two officers that the department says it needs. Or it could fund police response to many of the traffic accidents Metro recently began ignoring.

From June 14, 2013, to March 8, 2014, Metro’s staffing of the Culinary Union’s regular protests outside the Cosmopolitan cost taxpayers $204,549.60, police records show.

During that period, Metro only charged the Culinary Union Local 226 once — giving it an $8,858 bill following a civil disobedience “event” conducted by the union.

Deducting that bill, the nine-month Metro subsidy of Culinary protests amounts to $195,964.60.

Metro provided the information in response to a Nevada Journal public records request.

Typically, for events on the Strip that require police officers, Metro seeks reimbursement from event organizers for the cost of those officers.

In this case, however, taxpayers have footed and continue to foot the bill for the demonstrations, in which union members have hurled offensive, personal insults at people who cross the picket line and have intentionally had themselves arrested.

Metro’s public information officer said the department doesn’t specifically exempt the Culinary Union from reimbursement requirements: It exempts unions, period.

“It is our policy not to charge organizers of labor disputes,” Officer Jesse Roybal, the department’s PIO, said in the public-records-act response. “LVMPD must remain a neutral third-party to these disputes. An organized labor event can be treated and billed like any other special event if it is not a demonstration against a specific business.”

In the one instance that the department sought reimbursement from the Culinary Union, Metro did not even ask for the department’s full costs. According to police records, when the union conducted its pre-planned acts of civil disobedience — in which members blocked traffic on Las Vegas Boulevard outside the Cosmopolitan and over 100 were arrested — the $8,585.50 that Metro charged the union for police overtime was only half of the full costs.

That full cost — the balance of which was billed to taxpayers — was $16,797.02.

In contrast, Metro routinely charges other special events for the cost of the police. Metro provided billing information for events on the Strip from March 8 to 21, showing charges ranging from $690 for a concert at the House of Blues, to $27,495.50 to cover a boxing event at the MGM Grand. The median cost of on-duty police resources billed for reimbursement was $7,494.50.

The Culinary Union’s per-event tabs — picked up by taxpayers — have usually been much higher. From June 14, 2013 to March 8, 2014, Metro deployed resources for 18 pickets, ranging in cost from $3,769.47 to $21,285.93. The median cost incurred by the department was $11,437.47.

Last summer, Metro’s then PIO Larry Hadfield told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the department decides whether to seek reimbursement from event organizers based on whether the event is a for-profit or nonprofit one. As the Review-Journal’s Editorial Board aptly noted, while the union itself is not a for-profit entity, its members would reap great profit were it to succeed in its fight to squeeze a benefit-heavy contract out of the hotel that been in financial trouble since it opened in 2010.

The union boasts on its website that members receive free health care, 401K retirement savings plans, pensions, scholarships, additional insurance and other benefits.  The New York Daily News reports members are paid higher-than-average wages, with most housekeepers at hotels on the Strip starting at $16 an hour.

Roybal, Metro’s current PIO, claims that Metro’s refusal to seek reimbursement allows Metro to be a “neutral third-party” in the labor dispute, yet providing hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in in-kind donations suggests anything but neutrality.

This is especially true when Sheriff Doug Gillespie has led the charge for a 0.15 percent sales tax hike to increase staffing levels.

Additionally, Metro claims it is so short on officers that it stopped responding to non-injury traffic collisions March 3. Yet Metro still provided officers — free of charge to the union — to work Culinary 226’s March 8 protest.

The money Metro failed to bill the Culinary Union is enough to cover the total compensation of two additional police officers, based on compensation information on TransparentNevada.com.

As Culinary protests persist, Metro’s in-kind contribution, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to the union, continue as well.

Chantal Lovell can be reached at Chantal@nevadajournal.com. For more news, visit http://nevadajournal.com.

Nevada Policy Research Institute

The Nevada Policy Research Institute is a free-market think tank that seeks private solutions to public challenges facing Nevada, the West and the nation. The Institute's primary areas of focus are education and fiscal policy, with the goal of advancing free-market principles in both. NPRI has offices in Las Vegas, but scholars and writers from all over Nevada and the nation contribute to our mission. Twitter: @NevadaPolicyRI

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Categories: Budget and Finance, Government Transparency, Labor / Unions, Must Read, News, Waste, Fraud and Abuse
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