The Las Vegas building boom has stretched the work force paper-thin. Construction, which accounted for 113,500 jobs in July, now is Nevada’s fastest-growing and second-largest employer behind gaming. About $15 billion of resort work is slated through 2009, the city says.

The breakneck growth along the Strip is still a union stronghold. “Unions don’t come to jobsites to organize anymore, they come to get bodies because they can’t satisfy their own demand on the Strip,” says Robert Potter, chairman of Affordable Concepts, a local nonunion contractor.

 “We increased our membership by about 1,100 people last year,” says Tommy White, secretary-treasurer for laborers’ union Local 872, with 4,400 members in Clark County. Last year, it chartered a new local, 702, to address off-Strip light commercial and housing work. And area membership in carpenters’ locals could reach 10,000 by 2007, says Marc Furman, a Southwest regional union exec. “It’s the guys from the Rust Belt...who are coming,” he notes.

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  • Unions allow migration if needed. One lure is Project CityCenter, a $7-billion, 18-million-sq-ft complex being built by MGM Mirage Inc., the largest privately financed project in U.S. history, officials say. Perini Building Co. will employ up to 7,000 people at peak, one-third of all of southern Nevada’s union craft workers, says Chairman Richard Rizzo.

    The project, set to finish in 2009, will use out-of-state site managers, paying 10% to 15% over scale, signing bonuses and housing costs. As subcontractors and suppliers commit solely to CityCenter, the impact on regional labor resources angers regular customers. One contractor, requesting anonymity, claims Perini is stealing help by paying huge salaries with MGM dollars.

    But as developers build denser, taller projects to offset skyrocketing land and construction costs, unions see benefit. Says Furman: “That’s our work. The bigger the project gets, the more customers turn to us.”