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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Obama's continued sops to labor

The WSJ reports that an Executive Order that Obama signed when he first came into office to require that all federal construction projects only be with companies that are effectively unionized.
The federal rule, which went live yesterday, implements an executive order President Obama signed within weeks of taking office. It encourages federal agencies to require "project labor agreements" for all construction projects larger than $25 million. This means that only contractors that agree to union representation are eligible for work financed by the U.S. taxpayer.

Only 15% of the nation's construction workers are unionized, so from now on the other 85% will have to forgo federal work for having exercised their right to not join a union. This is a raw display of political favoritism, and at the expense of an industry experiencing 27% unemployment. "This is nothing but a sop to the White House's big donors," says Brett McMahon, vice president at Miller & Long Concrete Construction, a nonunion contractor. "We've seen this so many times now, and how many times does it have the union label? Every time."

It's also a rotten deal for taxpayers. White House economist Jared Bernstein blogged that these agreements "significantly enhance the economy and efficiency of Federal Construction projects." In fact, the carve-outs put an end to open, competitive federal bidding, which means higher project costs. They also mean taxpayers must finance the benefits and work rules of union members.

Mr. Bernstein could check all this with the Department of Veterans Affairs, which last year commissioned an independent study showing the Obama project labor agreements would likely raise the VA's construction costs for hospitals by as much as 9% in three of five markets—Denver, New Orleans and Orlando. In two others, New York and San Francisco, the study predicted a mixture of small cost increases and small cost savings.

The study reported "strong evidence to suggest that the result of a PLA [project labor agreement] that dictates work rules, double benefits, team structure and activities on non-union type contractors will be that production costs will increase—given these union-related requirements." It also rebutted a favorite liberal argument that such agreements lead to less labor strife, noting that there are "many examples for projects where there have been strikes but also no strikes—unrelated to whether or not a PLA is in place."
Whenever you hear President Obama rail against the special interests, you need to insert a special footnote to remember that he doesn't include his union supporters as special interests. For them, he's willing to do anything and indeed he does.

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