Las Vegas Sun

October 25, 2014

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Labor and City Hall:

Mayor gives Culinary a piece of his mind

Union critical of plan for downtown development, but it passes anyway

Most days of the week Oscar Goodman and labor get along.

But on Wednesday, the Las Vegas mayor was firmly fixed on his legacy, making it clear he wouldn’t let anyone, including the Culinary Union, stand in the way of a downtown development plan.

The drama, complete with screaming and finger-pointing, played out at a Las Vegas City Council hearing, where council members were set to vote on 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.

(Moving city hall from its current location would open a large swath of land on Las Vegas Boulevard, including a parcel the city owns. The city figures that between land sales and tax revenue from new development, the city hall move will pay for itself over the next eight years while bringing new business downtown and creating more than 13,000 jobs.)

Goodman noted the project would provide construction work for the trades and employment for the service unions.

Still, Chris Bohner, the union’s research director, protested the measure. Backed by more than 100 union members wearing red T-shirts, he called the plan fiscally irresponsible, especially at a time when the city faces a $150 million deficit over the next five years and has announced cuts to public services.

Goodman, rising from his seat and wagging his finger, wouldn’t have any of it.

Bohner: “Can I proceed with my testimony?”

Goodman: “No! Because you’re disingenuous! You’re disingenuous!”

Bohner: “It’s not disingenuous.”

Goodman: “I’m not going to allow lies! Tell the truth! Tell the truth!”

Bohner continued, saying the union opposes the measure because it leaves taxpayers “on the hook” for the debt, with the expectation that several development projects will come to fruition and generate enough money down the road to pay it off. He also accused the council of pursuing a so-called “certificate of participation” instead of regular bonds so that it could avoid having citizens vote on the issue.

Goodman fired back that the union’s leadership was doing a “phenomenal disservice” to its rank and file. After all, he said, a new resort would hire thousands of Culinary members when it opens.

He then flashed back to his days as a criminal defense attorney and compared union protesters to federal prosecutors and FBI agents who showed up in courtrooms, arms crossed, to intimidate judges. “There is no intimidation here,” Goodman said. “The judge did his job. He wasn’t intimated because of numbers.”

That comment drew a round of applause from a dozen or so building trades members sitting across the council chamber gallery.

“We’re trying to keep you working,” Goodman said. “Help us do it. Don’t impede us.”

And then to Bohner: “I don’t respect you, sir.”

Councilman Larry Brown, whose successful bid for the Clark County Commission had been opposed by the Culinary, got in a few shots of his own at the union’s leadership.

Making an apparent reference to the union’s recent campaign against him, he said, “The misinformation, the blatant lies, the misunderstanding. I can understand that. But then to take that and promote it publicly is just wrong. It’s disingenuous and it’s cowardly.”

He challenged Culinary leaders “to get back on track with this council.”

The building trades group applauded Brown.

After the council passed the measure unanimously, the Culinary members stood up, clapped in unison and chanted “No new city hall!” before filing out of the chambers.

Goodman couldn’t resist one more shot. He mocked them. “Excuse me, I didn’t understand what they were saying,” he said. “What did they say?”

Earlier in the meeting, Goodman and Brown acknowledged the risk of the deal, but said the risk of doing nothing is much greater.

Pilar Weiss, the Culinary’s political director, said she was surprised by the officials’ criticism of the union. “Some politicians think the Culinary Union should stick to negotiating contracts and not have any opinion about the greater good,” she said. “We represent 60,000 members and their families. Those people are taxpayers.”

She said the union also protested the city’s plan to sell downtown property to the new owners of the Lady Luck at a discounted rate because “we’re against the city giving away incentives to private companies over taxpayers.”

To be sure, the union is also concerned about its numbers. It wants to ensure any future casino jobs will be union. “They can say a lot of things,” Weiss said. “But just saying they like unions does not mean all middle-class jobs with benefits.”

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