One of the city's largest construction unions has put up large banners in front of the Las Vegas Hilton. The banners ask the public to cast shame on the company for hiring a contractor that uses non-union labor for Asbestos removal. As KNPR's Ky Plaskon reports it's a new strategy for unions in Las Vegas.
PLASKON: The Las Vegas Hilton is remodeling some hotel rooms says the company's vice president of communications, Ira David Sternberg.
STERNBERG: The work that is being done here will have no impact on employees or customers.
PLASKON: But KNPR followed customers in the hotel as they wandered across carpets covered in plastic, past dumpsters and through dust clouds in the area being remodeled.
PLASKON: As the tourists walk past one of the rooms a worker rushes out wearing a breathing mask and carrying armloads of demolished materials. He dumps them into a cart creating more dust that has formed a haze in the hotel's hallways.
HAWK: We realize that people have budgets to make but come on, this is putting people at risk.
PLASKON: Frank Hawk, Senior Representative of the Southwest Regional Association of Carpenters is warning Hilton customers and employees that the contractor doing the work could expose them to asbestos.
HAWK: They haven been able to install chairs correctly, they haven't been able to install picture frames correctly, they've got stopped and shut down by OSHA for simple things like painting and these seem very simple but this is a company that they are choosing to do the removal of asbestos, so this is not something that we take lightly and it is something we think the public should be aware of.
PLASKON: The Hilton's Sternberg says its contractor know it's doing.
STERNBERG: There is really no physical danger at all and I am sure it is a standard procedure that is used all over the country hundreds of times a week.
PLASKON: But Hawk believes the Hilton should be looking at the practices of its contractors a little closer.
SOUND: On street.
PLASKON: So it's posted signs outside the Hilton aimed at tourists, saying that there is a danger of asbestos. Workers are passing out bright pink flyers with a scull and cross bones on them and the phone numbers of lawyers that litigate lung cancer cases. Monica Caruso of the Southern Nevada Home Builders hasn't seen this kind of protest before.
CARUSO: Yes, it does seem unusual.
PLASKON: Hotel security weren't aware of it either according to the union's Hawk.
HAWK: We were standing out there and handing out leaflets and they told us to get the picket line outta here.
PLASKON: He says, it's not a picket line. It's less confrontational, requires less organizing, less dedication of employees and no time off the job to protest. Hawk says its covered under first amendment too.
HAWK: The security guards called the police and the police said they have a good point. This has to do with the United States constitution."
PLASKON: Hawk has only been in Las Vegas for 6 months and is planning to use these protest banners for projects across the city. He already has one posted at SOHO lofts downtown where he says workers are paid half as much as union workers.
HAWK: We are hiring new organizers and getting ready for this construction boom that the town is getting ready for.
PLASKON: His argument is that the hiring of non-union contractors puts Las Vegas on a race to the bottom of construction quality and pay scales. Steve Holloway, Vice President of the Las Vegas Associated General Contractors says the banners won't work.
HOLLOWAY: Well I don't think the banners will be to effective.
PLASKON: But in San Diego the tactic has been in place for years.
RYAN: It is effective.
PLASKON: Jim Ryan is Vice President of the Associated General Contractors of San Diego. He knows the effects of the banners on non-union labor.
RYAN: Sometimes they get thrown off the job because the owners don't want to get in the middle of it. It is illegal, it is chicken s . .t.
PLASKON: He calls the banners a form of picketing and he believes they are illegal because Under the Taft Heartly act of 1948 unions are supposed to picket the direct employer of the non-union workers, or in the case of the Hilton, picket the contractor, not the hotel that hired the contractor.
RYAN: The owner doesn't hire the employees, the owner hires the contractor and the contractor hires the employees.
PLASKON: Hawk of the carpenters union says that logic allows companies to wash their hands of responsibility for the activity of their contractors.
HAWK: I think they have a moral responsible to the public and employees and they have to get in and really look at these contractors.
PLASKON: The San Diego Association of General Contractors is trying to protect owners from the union's protest banners across the nation. Four years ago it started a "Ban the Banners" campaign and raised 150-thousand dollars for legal fees. Then it filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Review Board in Washington. But the Bush Administration hasn't appointed a 5th member of the board, and the decision on the banners is stalled until all the commission's seats are full. Meanwhile the Las Vegas Carpenters union plans on expanding the banners as a free speech issue.
Ky Plaskon, News 88-9 KNPR