Labor union sues city over major Sparks development and prevailing wage issue

A Northern Nevada laborer’s union is suing the City of Sparks and alleging it gave a development company a sweetheart deal to avoid paying higher wages to workers.

The complaint, filed Tuesday with the state’s Office of the Labor Commissioner by the Laborers International Union Local 169, alleges that the City of Sparks’ redevelopment agency agreed to transfer ownership of a city-owned “C Street” four-story parking garage — appraised at $950,000 — to a private developer for no money, just the rights to 90 spaces for public parking.

The complaint alleges that the company — Silverwing Development Partners — proposed compensation of long-term public parking in the garage (estimated to be worth $54,000 a year) was not appropriate for “full market value,” and prevented workers on the project from being paid the prevailing wage — a mandated hourly wage paid to the majority of workers in an individual field in a specific geographic region that is required for most public work projects.

Union Secretary-Treasurer Skip Daly, also an assemblyman, said in an interview that the union brought the complaint after finding out about the arrangement, noting that workforce on the project was mixed union and non-union. He said he was bothered to learn that the city of Sparks had apparently gone around prevailing wage laws in signing over the property to the developer.

“In my view, they gave away three floors for nothing,” he said.”They specifically worked to find a way around it, and that kind of irked me.”

The project, called “Deco,” is a $40 million redevelopment of the parking garage into a 10-story luxury apartment complex with 209 units, while still using the bottom four floors for parking. The project was announced in 2018 and is part of a full-scale redevelopment of the Victorian Square development in Sparks.

The complaint cites a section of state law that essentially requires any new contract for construction, repair or reconstruction to pay prevailing wage on construction projects if the property is provided for development at less than “fair market value.”

According to a copy of the redevelopment agreement attached to the complaint, the Sparks redevelopment agency agreed to transfer control of the property to the developer at no cost, other than a requirement to offer an estimated 90 spots of parking on the first floor of the structure for free to the public for at least 50 years.

The agreement states that a cost-benefit analysis indicated that the “public benefit of the public’s right to use the Public Parking would equal or exceed the $950,000 value of the Project Property,” thereby making it exempt from prevailing wage requirements.

The complaint asks the state labor commissioner to conduct an administrative hearing into the claims and to make workers on the project “whole” by paying them what they otherwise would have made if they were paid prevailing wage on the project.

A spokeswoman for the City of Sparks said the city is aware of the claims in the complaint and is evaluating its next options. A call to SilverWing Development Partners LLC’s head, J. Carter Witt III, was not returned Thursday.

Prevailing wage has been hot-button issue in the past three legislative sessions — Republican-led majorities in 2015 passed bills placing more restrictions on prevailing wage payments for school construction projects, which was then rolled back by Democrats in the 2019 legislative session and signed into law by Gov. Steve Sisolak.

Daly also sponsored a bill in the 2019 Legislature (AB190) that in part requires prevailing wage on public-private partnerships where public financing is involved. He said in an interview that those provisions were already in state law and their inclusion was meant as a way to clear up any confusion or uncertainty as to when public agencies had to pay their workers a prevailing wage.

“The bill also provides that prevailing wage would apply to the same extent as if the governing body had undertaken the project or had awarded the contract,” he said during a May meeting. “There will be no confusion.”

Laborers Lawsuit Sparks by Riley Snyder on Scribd