Worker Protest

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Union members rallied in downtown Reno on
Saturday to protest what they said is the use of out-of-state,
nonunion workers on a $161 million project to convert a former
high-rise hotel-casino into condominiums.

"Chicago developer Fernando Leal is taking advantage of this
favorable climate to improve his own bottom line through the unfair
treatment of northern Nevada construction workers by undercutting
area standards for wages, benefits and working conditions," union
leader Todd Koch said.

Leal, a managing partner in L3 development, which is overseeing
the project, told The Associated Press on Saturday that nearly 60
percent of the contracts were awarded to union shops.
"Nothing would have made me happier than to award all of the
contracts to Nevada-based companies," he said. "However, the
enormous increase in construction costs over the last 15 months,
coupled with the slowdown in the real estate market nationally,
made this a very difficult project to bring in at a budget that
would facilitate financing."

Leal's company, which specializes in renovating commercial
properties, bought the former Golden Phoenix Hotel & Casino after
it was shuttered at the end of 2005 - again accompanied by a union
protest over lost jobs.

Only steel beams remain of the former casino while it's being
converted into retail units and a fitness center. The high-rise
hotel behind it will house 380 condominiums in what will be known
as Montage.

Saturday's noisy demonstration had about 300 union members,
their spouses and a few of their kids marching peacefully in front
of the property and L3's sales office next door, where Leal's
office currently is located.

T-shirts and jackets bore union logos and signs read,
"Fernando, can you hear us now?"
A few marchers recalled working with union contractors when the
original building was erected three decades ago as the Sahara Reno.

Koch, assistant business manager of the International Union of
Painters and Allied Trades District Council of northern Nevada,
said union contractors submitted bids to Leal.
"He said he didn't like `em, so he got new bids that were
lower. That's why we're here today," he said on Saturday.

Leal told The Associated Press the process was "open and
transparent." "This project would not have had any chance of moving forward, had it not been for the unique collaboration between union and
nonunion forces from local, regional and national suppliers," he

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

AP-NY-02-17-07 1744EST