The Nevada Supreme Court has been asked to decide if Clark County can require union participation in contracts for $106 million in renovations planned for the county jail in downtown Las Vegas.
Clark County District Court Judge Jerry Wiese on Friday signed an amended order rejecting a challenge to the county’s Project Labor Agreement for the jail work.
The challenge was made by non-union contractors represented by the Nevada Business Coalition and the Associated Builders and Contractors Nevada Chapter. They've appealed Wiese's ruling.
The non-union contractors sought an injunction barring the county from awarding a contract for the $27 million first phase of the job. That contract award is scheduled for June 21, Wiese wrote in his ruling.
The non-union contractors argued the Project Labor Agreement (PLA) will drive up costs by limiting competition.
"The PLA illegally limits bidding indirectly to union contractors," the non-union contractors charged in a lawsuit against the county. "The PLA has the effect of preventing the public from receiving the best bid. The PLA discourages competition and encourages favoritism while wasting public funds."
Attorneys for Clark County, however, said the PLA benefits the county by ensuring there will be no strikes to disrupt critical work at the jail, called the Clark County Detention Center, where critical systems have been failing or are in danger of failing including plumbing systems in the 12-story, 27-year-old north tower.
They argued the County Commission, in approving the Project Labor Agreement, was "legitimately concerned about the potential for a catastrophic plumbing failure or work stoppage once the project is under way, the unique challenges posed by a construction project in areas still housing inmates, the potential need to relocate or release prisoners prior to expiration of their sentences … and the very real threat to public safety."
In siding with the county, Wiese noted the PLA complies with a PLA that the state Supreme Court previously upheld involving a Southern Nevada Water Authority project.
The county’s PLA for the jail with the Southern Nevada Building & Construction Trades Council (a group of unions) allows access to the project for union and non-union contractors, says no worker is required to join a union, provides for the payment of prevailing wages and says non-union contractors and subcontractors can use up to seven "core employees" for each employee referred through union hiring halls.
Nevertheless, the non-union contractors complained that because of the PLA, one of the four finalists for the work, a non-union contractor, has withdrawn from the bidding.
They also asserted that because of the PLA, some contractors have complained they will be deprived from using their current employees and apprentices and that some subcontractors have refused to provide bids to general contractors.
The Supreme Court has taken the appeal on an expedited basis, with oral arguments set for June 13.
County staff and the union trades council have estimated needed jail renovations could cost $120 million to $125 million, respectively, over four years. But the latest cost estimate is $106 million.