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August 1, 2014

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Trades council takes on Culinary in downtown development dispute

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The city’s downtown redevelopment plan, which would include replacing city hall, has become a point of dispute between the local trades council and the Culinary Union.

The simmering tension between the Culinary Union and the Southern Nevada Building and Construction Trades turned into all-out war this afternoon, with the trades council openly opposing the Culinary's move to repeal the City of Las Vegas' downtown redevelopment plan.

In a news release, Trades Council President Rick Johnson called the Culinary's effort to force an initiative and referendum on the plan "job-killing measures."

"It is our belief that in these times of economic peril, one of the best ways governments can help stimulate the economy is by investing in public works projects that create good paying jobs with benefits," Johnson said.

"We believe the projects in question are a small but important investment in downtown infrastructure and in keeping Southern Nevada’s working class employed."

At issue is a $266 million bond measure that would finance construction of a new city hall — and, officials say, set into motion a series of development projects, including a gaming resort, that would revitalize downtown.

The Culinary has called the plan fiscally irresponsible at a time when the city faces a $150 million deficit over the next five years.

Tension between the Culinary and the building trades was in the air at a city council hearing last month where the Culinary protested the redevelopment plan. When Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman and City Councilman Larry Brown chided the union as obstructionist, the officials received the applause of a group of building trades members in the gallery.

Notably, the trades council statement came from Johnson, not Secretary-Treasurer Steve Ross, the trades council's most powerful leader as well as a member of the Las Vegas City Council. Ross has been roundly criticized for attempting to wear the hats of city councilman and labor leader at the same time, voting to approve projects that directly impact his members.

In a Sun interview in June Ross insisted he has been careful to keep his two roles separate.

“I keep my city council office and this building trades office extremely far apart, and I do it on purpose,” Ross said. “I don’t want any thought of me mingling the two. I don’t want that to be clouded. I don’t want that to be gray. It’s very black and white.”

Last month he voted, along with the rest of the council, to move forward with the redevelopment plan.

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