Las Vegas Sun

August 25, 2019

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Nonunion contractors score win over county jail bidding process

In a victory for nonunion contractors, a state judge has ordered Clark County to revise its bidding plan for the first phase of a renovation project for the county jail in downtown Las Vegas.

Clark County District Court Judge Jerry Wiese, in an order filed Wednesday, found the county’s Project Labor Agreement for the contract requiring union labor participation "promotes favoritism and favors union workers and contractors over non-union workers and contractors."

Nonunion contractors represented by Citizen Outreach Inc., dba as Nevada Business Coalition, sued the county April 8, charging they were unfairly disqualified from bidding for the work because of the union-labor requirement.

Wiese initially sided with the county, but was ordered by the Nevada Supreme Court to take another look at the case.

In his order Wednesday, Wiese found plenty to like about the PLA even though he ended up rejecting it.

The judge found contractors submitted a low bid of $17.3 million for the initial phase of the job, well below the engineer’s estimate of $27 million.

"It appears clear that the proposed PLA did not lessen competition or drive up the bid price," Wiese wrote in his ruling.

Wiese also found provisions in the agreement banning strikes and guaranteeing that wage rates won’t increase will save the county money.

The judge cited evidence that because of the recession, the Las Vegas area is saturated with unemployed, qualified construction workers, both union and nonunion.

This "counsels against a PLA, inasmuch as there is a multitude of skilled and qualified workers, without the need to limit such labor force to union workers," his order said.

On the other hand, he wrote that with so many unemployed workers, the lack of a PLA could "result in picketing, strikes and other potential work stoppages."

In ordering changes to the PLA, Wiese found provisions allowing nonunion contractors to keep just seven core employees and hire the rest from union halls seem "to put non-union workers at a disadvantage."

"Although this court believes that ultimately the use of a PLA on the Detention Center project would benefit the taxpayers of Clark County, (under) the (legal) standard which this court must comply … this court cannot in good conscience find that the proposed PLA avoids favoritism," Wiese wrote.

Clark County and a coalition of unions involved in the case, the Southern Nevada Building & Construction Trades Council, haven’t yet indicated if they’ll appeal or work to amend the PLA.

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