Meet Our 2018 Labor Candidates: Paul McKenzie, Reno City Council, Ward 4

Fast Facts:

In additional to his seat on Reno City Council, Paul serves as the secretary-treasurer for the Building and Construction Trades Council of Northern Nevada, and was a heavy equipment operator with the Operating Engineers. He’s worked in construction and mining for more than 20 years.
He was raised in a small town—so small that there were only 23 students in his graduating class (the school’s largest in 60 years).
After he left the military, Paul went to work in ranching and fell in love with horse training. “Training a horse is about cooperation,” he says. “If you try to force a horse to do something they don’t want to do, you’ve got a mess on your hands. That lesson has been helpful in politics, too.”

For most politically-engaged Reno residents, Paul McKenzie’s face is a familiar one. For the last four years he’s represented Ward 4, which includes parts of north and northwest Reno, and the North Valleys/Stead, on the Reno City Council. In that time, Paul has been an active and visible presence on boards and committees like the Ward 4 Neighborhood Advisory Board, the Governor’s Workforce Investment Board, the Regional Transportation Commission, the Truckee River Flood Management Authority, and at least a half dozen others. 

Paul McKenzie’s goals span a wide array of community development issues, but much of his focus is trained on growth-related issues impacting the North Valleys—namely traffic and flood control. 

We talked with Paul this week about his priorities for new term.

You’ve been on Reno City Council since 2014, and in that time Reno has undergone dramatic growth and transformation. What have those changes meant for Ward 4, and how have you been addressing them?

Well, that depends on how you look at growth. If you’re not a friend of growth, then a lot of bad things have happened in Ward 4, both industrial and residential. We’ve had a big traffic problem since 2007-2008, for instance, that has gone largely ignored until recently. There just wasn’t much political to put attention into those things. But the good thing about that growth is that we’ve finally got a spotlight on those issues, and now we’ve got to get ahead of them.

Since I took office, the governor has made the Spaghetti Bowl a priority, and the NDOT has moved faster on that than I’ve ever seen. The first phase of that will project includes improvements to the congested, high-accident/high-injury areas near Wells Avenue. We’ll also be getting an extra lane on 395 southbound from Lemmon Valley to the Spaghetti Bowl. 

This was all part of the 20-year plan, but my predecessor never saw fit to move it to the 10-year plan. When I got into office, there wasn’t even a plan to start it. I managed to get it on the 5-year plan. Other parts of the project will take a bit longer while we get federal studies done, but these issues are getting traction and moving  quickly.

The other major growth issues we’ve got up here in the north are sewer water and flooding. Our treatment facility is nearing capacity. If the growth projections for this area over the next several years play out, we’re going to be well over capacity. This exacerbates the flooding issues, too. We’ve got three flooded lakes up here with no plan yet for what to do with those. We’ve been pushing the engineering group for a solution. The whole system needs some major upgrades. We need to continue to mitigate the impact of development on those neighborhoods.

You’ve had your hands full for the last four years. If you’re re-elected in November, what are some of your other top priorities going forward for the city council?

Affordable housing, no question. This is a city-wide priority and it’s going to take all of us working full speed ahead together. 

Our fire departments and police force are another big issue. There isn’t a fire department in Reno that doesn’t have firefighters working overtime just to cover shifts. Summer wildfire season amplifies that even more.

Parks in our region are also badly overtaxed and need to be expanded. We don’t have nearly enough flat fields for our kids to be able to play sports, they’re fighting for time and space. Soccer and football teams are odds all the time. Then we’ve got the football teams stealing the outfields to practice, which leaves the baseball teams nowhere to practice. It’s a mess. And now we’ve got a fledgling lacrosse community with nowhere to play.

We need to require that developers provide not only park space for their new communities, but put some money in the game themselves to build out these new parks for those families. 

Let’s talk about labor. It’s a charged time right now for labor across the country, with the Janus vs AFSCME ruling throwing things into uncertainty. Since Nevada is a right-to-work state and therefore doesn’t collect agency fees for non-union members in a unionized workplace, the impact of the Janus decision won’t be felt as directly or as immediately. But there will no doubt be reverberations. How do you see that playing out in Nevada?

Anytime there’s an attack on labor it trickles down and affects all of us. Previous attacks on public employees in Wisconsin have been felt by public employees across the country. A number of states flipped to right-to-work after that.

Now, this nationwide plan to attack labor through governmental actions attempts to weaken the ability of workers to get representation. But I think these kinds of legislative undercuts are going to continue unless workers and leaders decide they’ve had enough and take the bull by the horns and as a movement, turn that momentum around and being to revitalize the labor movement.

In your opinion, and experience, what’s the role of labor in Nevada today? What role with labor play in Nevada’s near-future?

Right now the shortage of a skilled workforce in Northern Nevada has put labor at the forefront. The value of skilled labor is being recognized and I think the union  community has become stronger for it. The local building and construction trade unions are providing a skilled workforce at a time when there’s a desperate need for it. We’re out in the community putting together cooperative partnerships to get people into our apprenticeship programs, we’re getting people trained to meet that demand. And we do that better than anybody. 

But that shortage also means that a lot of unskilled labor is coming in from out-of-state, workers who haven’t been in the workforce that long or who don’t recognize the value of collective bargaining and so they’re willing to work without protections, and willing to work for less, which undermines the union workers here.

We’ve also been putting pressure on the development community, some of these big players like Tesla and Google and Switch, to step up and address the construction housing market, which they so far haven’t been willing to do. These huge companies put out a big demand for labor, but its sporadic. It’s not like, say, Apple, who’ve been working steadily on the same job site for five years and so their workers can get into more permanent housing. All those construction workers coming into town for these large but staggered projects aren’t going to be buying houses here or signing leases. They’re going to be staying in hotel and motel rooms or other temporary units. And that impacts tourism, and affordable housing for families who need it.

When we get that next big push for skilled labor for the development happening up north, if developers aren’t willing to work with us on that, we’re not going to be able to provide them with a workforce. They need to be willing to be part of the solution.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Learn more about Paul McKenzie at his campaign website, votepaulmckenzie.com.