Pay dispute continues to delay Las Vegas Strip bollards project

The installation of hundreds more steel safety posts along Las Vegas Strip sidewalks has been delayed at least another three weeks because of a continuing payroll dispute.

Clark County commissioners on Tuesday again postponed deciding whether to extend a contract with Muller Construction until county staff completes an investigation into allegations that the company underpaid its employees.

“All of our workers were properly classified and paid,” Muller Construction President Cesar Malaga told commissioners. “On the whole, we overpaid our workers on the project.”

The county is investigating whether the company violated Nevada’s prevailing wage law, which stipulates the minimum pay for public works projects.

The investigation was launched after Nevada Foundation for Fair Contracting director Lou DeSalvio reported two workers told him that they and one other worker were incorrectly paid for their ironwork.

During Tuesday’s meeting, there seemed to be confusion among county officials about whether any impropriety had been found.

County Purchasing Manager Adleen Stidhum told commissioners that her staff had not found any payroll discrepancies. However, Commissioners Steve Sisolak and Jim Gibson said they were both told in pre-meeting briefings that a Muller Construction representative had acknowledged some employees were underpaid.

County Manager Yolanda King and Chief Administrative Officer Les Lee Shell said after the meeting that no determinations will be made until the investigation is complete. Muller Construction submitted its final payroll to the county for review on Tuesday.

“We believe that there may have been some mis-classification, and there needs to be that final validation of this incoming payroll … ,” Shell told commissioners. “If there are any discrepancies, we will absolutely make sure that Muller pays the differences in those wages.”

King said the investigation should be done by Feb. 6, the date of the commission’s next regular meeting.

“Smear campaign”

Malaga claimed DeSalvio’s report was part of a “smear campaign” against his company by the Laborers Local 872 union, of which DeSalvio is an elected official. Malaga said union members have picketed their office and all their Strip work sites.

He also repeated his company’s claim that DeSalvio accessed their work site by illegally impersonating a county official and falsified statements in his report.

“Both employees involved in DeSalvio’s report have signed sworn affidavits to this effect and are available to meet with you the commissioners individually as their work allows,” he said.

DeSalvio told commissioners that he never said he was with the county. He said his complaint against Muller Construction was a prevailing-wage issue and “not a union-nonunion thing.”

“Those that alluded to me as being biased is absurd,” DeSalvio said. “Saying that about me is like saying our District Attorney Steve Wolfson could not be fair due to he was a defense attorney first before he became a prosecutor.”

Union officials slam Muller

Muller Construction faced sharp criticism from two officials of other trade unions during the meeting’s public comment.

Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters representative Frank Hawk criticized Muller Construction’s practice of having employees on the bollard project perform work from multiple trades.

“This is our public safety we’re looking at here,” he said. “These bollards are put in to prevent ISIS-style (vehicle) attacks, and we’re going to have somebody come in and hodgepodge this and say, ‘We’re going to do a blended rate?’”

Ironworkers Local 433 business agent Robert Conway said the contract extension should be put out to bid. A proper contractor, he said, would hire craftsmen from different trades instead of blending employees’ pay.

“Taking a chance on somebody that’s having this many complaints … seems kind of foolish at this point,” he said. ”It’s pretty clear that there’s a problem.”

Contact Michael Scott Davidson at sdavidson@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861. Follow @davidsonlvrj on Twitter.

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