Photo By dennis myers Workers gathered at Sixth and Virginia streets before marching up the hill to UNR.

Mark Decker’s sign read:






Antonio Rengel brought his sons Diego and Ryan, one of them still young enough to bring his baby bottle along. Rengel’s sign read:







The first “Nevada” on his sign had been crossed out and replaced with “Arizona,” making it “Arizona Public Works Board.” That was a reference to Sundt Construction of Tempe, Ariz., which received a contract for a health sciences building on the campus of the University of Nevada, Reno.

Decker and Rengel were among workers who gathered at Sixth and Virginia streets and marched to UNR to protest the use of out-of-state construction companies that hire out-of-state workers on Nevada construction projects, including taxpayer-funded projects, such as a couple at UNR.

Protest organizers distributed information on projects of the Reno airport, the Sparks Marina, a new Walmart on Glendale Avenue, the state highway department, utility companies serving Nevada, the Lyon County School District, Ormat and Enel energy companies, a Latter Day Saints church in Sun Valley, and Newmont and Barrick mining corporations as instances of out-of-area workers used on locally funded projects. It said workers from Arizona, California and Utah have been brought to Nevada for two School of Medicine projects at UNR.

In the case of Cabela’s and Legends, the city council-subsidized shopping facilities in Verdi and Sparks, workers lost coming and going—their sales taxes paid for subsidies of commercial developments that were constructed in part by out-of-state workers who sent their pay back to their home states. In effect, sales taxes paid by local workers were shipped out of state.

“Two projects currently underway at UNR were not even subject to competitive bidding, yet contractors from out of state were selected,” said Building and Construction Trades Council officer Paul McKenzie. “Tax dollars which should have been kept at home to help improve Nevada’s economy and reduce our state’s budget deficit are instead leaving the state and enriching the economies in Utah, California and Arizona, among others. … Enough is enough. … It has been our long, sad experience that non-Nevada companies often pay less than area-standard wages on privately funded jobs and are much more likely to violate the law by paying less than prevailing wages on public jobs.”

Does it matter on which side of an imaginary line on the map a worker resides? The protesters believe it does, less because of the jobs themselves than because of the circulation of the money paid to workers and where it will be spent. A dollar spent on a Reno construction, they said, can be spent in a Reno store or a Tempe store, generating further economic activity here or there. It should be paid to Nevadans, they said, especially if the dollar comes from taxes paid by Nevadans.

“Well, to the poor, unemployed laborers on the out-of-work list at our union hall, I think it makes a big difference,” said Skip Daly of Laborers Union Local 169, who helped organize the protest. “Local tax dollars should hopefully go to putting local workers to work in our community. The tax dollars that are spent to support a family in Arizona are not being recirculated in our town.”

Despite the personalization of the grievance toward UNR President Milton Glick on signs carried by Decker and others, Glick actually has no responsibility for construction matters on university buildings, unless they are very small contracts, usually remodeling or renovation. Constructions at the university are handled by the Nevada Public Works Board in Carson City. In addition, although the School of Medicine is housed on the UNR campus, it is not a UNR school (it’s the UN School of Medicine, not the UNR School of Medicine). Nevertheless, Glick’s office responded with a statement:

“Especially during this time, we value our role in creating local construction employment opportunities, and recent construction projects on campus have provided more than a thousand local construction jobs. We are fortunate that state leaders had the foresight to initiate projects that are providing these local construction jobs today. These projects are shaping the University’s future infrastructure, allowing us to serve a growing student enrollment and support the region’s future economy. … Over the past 18 months, 24 campus projects were awarded to contractors through the University’s purchasing department, and 22 of the 24 contractors were awarded to Nevada-based firms. Of the total construction dollars spent on these projects, 99 percent were awarded to local contractors. Major, state-funded building projects at the University are co-managed with the State Public Works Board. The Public Works Board manages the selection and bid processes, which are formal and rigorous processes.”

Publicly funded projects face difficulties in trying to do as the protesting workers want. The law and political hazards dictate that public bodies get the lowest cost possible on construction projects, and that often means accepting bids from out of state. Other state agencies face similar issues. The Public Employees Retirement Board, for instance, has declined to do things like divest itself of tobacco or other socially undesirable investments because the law permits considering only the earnings potential of investments, not their social implications.

Last week, Assemblymembers John Oceguera, Marilyn Kirkpatrick and Debbie Smith announced they will seek legislation requiring companies coming into Nevada who receive public tax breaks or subsidies to provide Nevada subcontractors a 5 percent bid preference over out-of-state firms.

In a prepared statement, Smith said, “These businesses get tax abatements for coming to Nevada. Nevada workers and businesses, not out-of-state operations, get jobs and contracts. The new companies win, Nevada businesses win, and Nevada workers win.”

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Dennis Myers

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...