Clark County officials have insisted for months, with straight faces, that requiring union labor on a $27 million jail renovation would save taxpayers money. The laughable argument was a lousy attempt to conceal what such project labor agreements really do: discriminate against non-union workers and companies while padding the pockets of unions, driving up costs to the public.
This month, District Judge Jerry Wiese called the county on its union pandering. In a case brought by the Nevada Business Coalition and the state chapter of the Association of Builders and Contractors against the county, Judge Wiese said the proposed project labor agreement for the jail does not comply with state bidding statutes because it does not promote competition and fairness and instead promotes favoritism toward unions.
Among the PLA's most expensive provisions were requirements that the contractor hire no more than seven non-union employees and pay into union benefit funds even if it already provided benefits to its workers. In exchange, union workers agree to accept inflated wages and not go on strike.
Judge Wiese also didn't buy a PLA requirement that unions not discriminate against non-union workers when sending tradesmen out of the union hall; because so many union members are out of work, the odds of a non-union worker climbing off the bottom of a hiring list are somewhere between zero and none.
The all-Democrat County Commission is expected to consider Judge Wiese's ruling and the jail PLA Sept. 6. Commissioners could decide to modify the PLA and rebid the project under terms that don't discriminate against non-union contractors. But they're apparently incapable of authorizing such language, and the plaintiff trade groups and Judge Wiese won't sign off on a PLA that includes union giveaways.
The jail needs to be fixed, and there are a lot of struggling Las Vegas construction workers who need jobs right now. The commission should do the sensible thing and drop the project labor agreement -- for this job and all others.