Tough times ahead for Omaha trade unions

Major power plant contract rewarded to out-of-state contractor

The Omaha World-Herald recently reported that the Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) awarded a major power plant contract to an out-of-state contractor, which could create a serious unemployment problem for Omaha trade unions. Instead of going to a union contractor, as many trades expected, the $630 million job went to the nonunion Nebraska City Power Partners, which is led by San Antonio-based Zachry Construction Corp.

Omaha trade workers have had plenty to do, thanks to projects such as the First National Tower, Qwest Center Omaha, and the MidAmerican Energy plant near Council Bluffs, Iowa. However, John Bourne, business manager for Local 22 of the IBEW says the outlook now is not so good. "The big stuff's just about topped out," Bourne told The Omaha World Herald. He told the newspaper that 170 of his 1,136 active union electricians are unemployed.

OPPD recognizes the trade union concerns, but justified its decision based on the fact that the Nebraska City Power Partners' bid was $30 million less than the next best proposal. Jeff Hanson, OPPD spokesperson, said the contractor and OPPD hope that Nebraska workers will participate heavily on the job, but also acknowledged that workers may not come from union shops. Hanson also told the newspaper that OPPD specified that Nebraska subcontractors should be used whenever possible, which is the first time the utility had required such a stipulation in a contract.

Zachry Construction spokeswoman Vicki Waddy told the newspaper the company usually uses as much as 70% local labor, while the remaining 30% consists of the project management team and specialized workers who are tenured Zachry employees.

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