Wage law prevails in hospital project
We were surprised by the ruling this week by Judge Michael Griffin that Carson-Tahoe Hospital’s new medical-center construction project will be subject to Nevada’s prevailing-wage laws, because it seemed to us to be a private job.
But a closer reading of the law shows there’s not much room for a broad interpretation, and Griffin’s ruling is the correct one. It helps uphold the integrity of the prevailing-wage law, which is designed to level the playing field on public-works projects so they are paying the same wages as private companies pay.
After a half-century as a city-owned facility, Carson-Tahoe Hospital is now operated as a private, nonprofit corporation. But it went back to City Hall to issue $95 million in bonds.
City taxpayers aren’t on the hook for the bond payments, which will be met by Carson-Tahoe Hospital through revenues from the new medical center. That was the basis for the hospital’s argument in court – it’s a private corporation and it’s paying back the bonds, so the medical center can’t be considered a public project subject to the prevailing-wage law.
But the law doesn’t make exceptions. It says a project financed through public money has to meet the prevailing-wage law. That’s the straightforward reading Griffin gave it.
The interpretation makes sense if the law is to carry any weight. As a deputy attorney general wrote in a brief in the case, “Local governments should not be allowed to escape compliance with (the prevailing-wage law) by creative manipulation of various bond statutes.”
In the end, paying prevailing wages will add about $1.7 million to the cost of the project – little more than 1 percent of the overall $132 million price tag. Most of the wages being paid are competitive. It’s not like the hospital tried to bring in cheap labor for the job.
But union activists took some rather cheap shots at the hospital last month when they marched down Carson Street carrying a casket with a sign saying, “Corporate greed killed Carson’s caring hospital.”
Now that they’ve won this round in court, maybe they should march down Carson Street carrying a giant paycheck that reads, “Carson’s hospital is paying our wages.”