Citing the need to keep its massive pipeline project on schedule, the Southern Nevada Water Authority plans to use a type of labor agreement that Gov. Jim Gibbons sought to get rid of last month.
Authority board members on Thursday voted to extend an existing project labor agreement to cover the agency’s multibillion-dollar pipeline network in rural Clark, Lincoln and White Pine counties. Doing so will protect the proposed project from delays that could be caused by a strike or other labor dispute, authority officials said.
Project labor agreements are collective bargaining agreements between public agencies and local construction unions.
“We use PLAs very effectively here. We save money. We save time,” said North Las Vegas Councilwoman Shari Buck, who is chairwoman of the water authority board.
In early January, Gibbons signed an executive order repealing the use of such agreements on new state-funded construction projects.
The move was hailed by nonunion contractors and others as a way to save taxpayers millions of dollars.
Under a PLA, the project owner is required to use only contractors that adhere to the rules set forth in the agreement, which includes wages, hours, benefits and other labor terms. In exchange, union workers pledge not to strike or pursue any other job actions.
Nonunion contractors have long contended that PLAs drive up the cost of public projects such as schools and roads by excluding nonunion workers and limiting competition for contracts.
But Marc Jensen, director of engineering for the authority, said the PLA has worked well for the valley’s wholesale water supplier.
Over the last 12 years, the authority has seen more than 8 million man-hours of construction work completed under the existing agreement. That work includes the second water intake at Lake Mead and the River Mountains water treatment plant in Henderson.
“We’ve had no labor disruption during that time,” said Jensen, not even in 2000 when 400 Teamsters union members went on strike over their contract with concrete suppliers.
He said about 40 percent of the workers used under the authority’s project labor agreement have been nonunion.
“It doesn’t exclude open-shop contractors. You don’t have to be a union contractor,” said Steve Ross, secretary-treasurer for the Southern Nevada Building and Construction Trades Council.
Jensen said the authority pioneered the use of project labor agreements in 1996, and successfully defended the practice before the Nevada Supreme Court in 1999.
Ross said the authority’s expanded project labor agreement is “historic” because it includes unions statewide.
What the authority gets from the agreement is a reliable and highly qualified workforce, Ross said. What workers get is Southern Nevada’s prevailing wage, which is the highest in the state.
Preliminary cost estimates for the water authority’s pipeline project range from $2 billion to $3.5 billion, but critics insist the final price tag will be much higher.
Using a network of wells, pipelines, pump stations and reservoirs, the authority plans to slake the Las Vegas Valley’s growing thirst with groundwater from rural valleys as much as 250 miles away.
Construction is expected to take 10 to 15 years.
Contact reporter Henry Brean at firstname.lastname@example.org or (702) 383-0350.