(Michael Chamberlain/Nevada Business Bureau) – When challenged by the Nevada Business Coalition and the Associated Builders and Contractors on its decision to impose a Project Labor Agreement on the Detention Center project, the Clark County Commission set out to justify the decision it had already made. The Commission obtained a report from the law firm of Verrill Dana affirming the use of a PLA for this project.
NBC and ABC’s challenge reached the Nevada Supreme Court, which ordered the District Court to revisit the case under the correct criteria. Following that Verrill Dana issued a revised report evaluating whether the PLA complied with the Supreme Court’s order. Although reaffirming its earlier decision, the revised Verrill Dana report raises questions regarding whether the PLA does comply with the Supreme Court’s order and Nevada law.
The Nevada Supreme Court specifically mentioned the status of “the Clark County labor market” as a factor that must be considered in the decision to impose a PLA. In order for a PLA to be appropriate there has to be some danger of a labor shortage.
Yet there is no chance of a labor shortage. The Verrill Dana report declares,
The construction market is depressed, such that craft employment is one-half of what it was in 2006 and there is projected a surplus of skilled labor for at least the next 7 years…While the assurance of an adequate supply of skilled labor is a factor often cited as favoring the adoption of a PLA, it is apparent that such assurances can be expected with or without a PLA in Las Vegas today.
One of the primary arguments in favor of the Project Labor Agreement is that it prevents strikes, picketing and other work stoppages that result from disagreements between unions and contractors or among different unions. However, the arbitration clause of this PLA, according to the Verrill Dana report,
is designed to convene an arbitration hearing on any charge of a breach within 24 hours of an alleged strike, picket line or other disruptive activity.
According to this description, strikes lasting up to 24 hours are still allowed.
Later, the report admits that the PLA is not a foolproof guarantee against strikes. In Part III, Section A it states,
The current bid results do not mean that the work will be prosecuted on-time and without delays that could well be occasioned by labor disputes or other working conditions hindering the efficient prosecution of the work.
[Emphasis ours.] While the Verrill Dana report recommends the PLA as a means of preventing strikes, it also seems to reveal that strikes are still possible.
Further, some of the justification for using PLA’s to prevent strikes is disturbing rather than reassuring. The Verrill Dana report recommends the PLA as a means of preventing strikes arising from disagreements between unions over how the work is divvied up, called jurisdictional strikes. Yet it states that jurisdictional strikes themselves are a violation of federal law, prohibited by the National Labor Relations Act.
The report also discusses how contractual no-strike clauses are often ineffective “even where the agreement explicitly prohibits the exact kind of stoppage or picketing that may be happening.”
The Verrill Dana report advocates the use of the PLA as the most-effective means of preventing unions from engaging in activity that is already illegal or is prohibited by contract. It seems a primary purpose of the PLA is to reward the unions because they are liable to break the law and/or contracts they have willingly signed. Why are we awarding additional benefits to people who may break the law to get them to obey the law?
Although the right-to-work issue is not addressed in the lawsuit itself it is hard to reconcile the state’s laws prohibiting union membership as a condition of employment with the requirements of this PLA. The PLA requires non-union contractors to hire workers from the union hall and limits the use of their own employees to a maximum of 7.
All contractors are required to sign a Letter of Assent. This Letter is the document that binds contractors to the terms of the PLA and “commit[s] them to a collective bargaining relationship with the unions” applying only to the particular project under the PLA.
The original Letter of Assent on the Detention Center, according to Verrill Dana,
required all contractors signing the Letter also to sign the local area collective bargaining agreement(s) for each craft they would employ, thus committing them to become union contractors in the regional jurisdiction of those agreements.
Thankfully, that provision was removed but mandating that contractors enter into an agreement with unions is questionable.
The revised version of the PLA added a Diversity Plan that, according to the report,
commits the unions and the contractors to the promotion of diversity and minority participation as workers and as business enterprises
While some County Commissioners and the Verrill Dana report consider the Diversity Plan to be a positive of the PLA it is difficult to see how it comports with the idea of generating an economic benefit to the taxpayers of Clark County.
Although the Verrill Dana report reaffirms its decision that the Clark County Detention Center PLA is appropriate, it raises serious questions about both the wisdom and legality of the PLA. The County should scrap this deal.