WATER WORRIES Pickets from the building trades say they are concerned about growth but some claim real target is nonunion work.
(Photo by Tony Illia for ENR)

Las Vegas has some long-shots, but the odds seem high that the building trades would ever ask to curb the area’s high-speed growth. And yet a union consortium under the moniker "Raising the Standards of Liberty" has asked for just that.

The group, which consists of area plumbers, plasterers, cement masons, teamsters and other trades, says it wants to slow residential construction in order to preserve water. Some claim the real purpose of the policy is organizing the city’s fast-growing housing industry.


Roughly 75 union members picketed in front of the Southern Nevada Water Authority offices on Nov. 5, asking the agency to act now rather than wait for the study results. Toting picket signs that read "If We Can’t Water Our Yards, Why Build More Yards to Water," the group estimates that every new home requires approximately 325,851 gallons of water annually.

"We’re not talking about stopping growth, but controlling it," says Ray Isner, organizing director for the Teamsters Local 631. "We’d like to see the builders drop Las Vegas to third or fourth place in the fastest-growing list."

Last year, 22,502 single-family detached homes were built in Southern Nevada, creating 59,122 jobs and $2.6 billion in local income, reports the National Association of Home Builders, Washington, D.C. However, the Las Vegas Valley is currently experiencing severe drought conditions, prompting the water authority to commission an impact study exploring a homebuilding moratorium.

Local homebuilders view the union’s effort as a thinly veiled organizing attempt. On Sept. 30, Raising the Standards of Liberty picketed outside the Southern Nevada Home Builders Association offices in Las Vegas. The union members claimed the homebuilders had failed to properly train and certify workers under a quality assurance program.

"I don’t care what they’re saying. Through the years there have been a number of efforts to unionize the residential construction industry," says Monica Caruso, a homebuilders’ spokeswoman. "This is just their latest campaign to unionize."

Union firms see the initiative as counterproductive and potentially damaging. "We believe the economic prosperity of our economy and our union employees is dependent upon growth," says Mike Sherwood, vice president of Nevada Ready Mix Corp., Las Vegas.