Never let it be said Rep. Shelley Berkley is shy about coming to the aid of her friends.
On Friday morning, Berkley did just that after reading an item in my column on the dilemma local trade unions are having in winning work on $150 million in federal construction jobs at a time of high industry unemployment. The money is being used to build a new FAA tower at McCarran Airport and an Army Reserve Training Center.
Representatives of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 525, Teamsters Local 631, Ironworkers Local 433 and Roofers Local 162 are protesting wage and benefit issues with the Department of Labor and are asking Nevada’s congressional delegation for help. Plumbers union official Greg Esposito says the wage structure is 50 percent below the union standard. Beyond that, health benefits are excluded.
“The unions are 100 percent right on this issue,” Berkley says. “I have worked like a dog to get these projects to Southern Nevada. They’re desperately needed projects and will be great in the end, and I love them. But the idea behind the projects is so that Nevada’s labor work force would be the ones that got the jobs.”
Berkley, Rep. Dina Titus, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid continue their efforts to “encourage” the Labor Department to review their files to allow for higher wages and benefits on the current projects.
“Everyone agrees with us, but no one seems to be able to get this accomplished. They are right. This is shameful.”
What’s worse, a good percentage of those jobs are going to out-of-state workers.
“I have great sympathy for them," Berkley says. "They’ve got families to feed, but I have to worry about my guys first. Local workers put their money back into the local economy. Right now these (out-of-state) workers are taking their money home. It’s a complete abomination. Frankly, I’m at my wits end. The labor guys said to me, ‘Shelley, we know you love these projects and worked hard to get them going.’ But the jobs aren’t supposed to go to outside workers. Lord knows I have enough of a labor supply here.”
Unemployment in the Southern Nevada construction trade is estimated at from 50 to 80 percent.