Editorial: Obama Doing Labor’s Bidding

0 May 18, 2010  Federal Construction

Another newspaper editorial, this time The Detroit News, is critical of President Obama’s scheme to funnel federal construction contracts to Big Labor through project labor agreements (PLAs) via Executive Order 13502 (“Obama Doing Labor’s Bidding,” 5/17).

“In Barack Obama’s Washington, a union card is a gold card. The president is skewing policy to give the 12 percent of the American work force belonging to a labor union 100 percent of the advantages.

Last week was a Groundhog’s Day version of Christmas morning for Big Labor. The gifts just kept on coming:

The president’s executive order kicked in “strongly encouraging” federal agencies to award government contracts to those companies whose workers either belong to a union or offer union wages and benefits. The so-called project labor agreements will make it nearly impossible for non-union construction firms to compete for contracts.

Those that do win federal work will have to either hire union workers or abide by union work rules, including making contributions to the union health care and pension funds.

Taxpayers will pay more for the same work, and non-union workers will be dunned to pay the benefits of union members. There’s no justification for the order in terms of efficiency, cost savings or quality of work. It’s a straight reward to the unions that did so much to get Obama and a Democratic Congress elected. “

After mentioning PLAs as the latest in a long list of Big Labor favors from the Obama administration, the editorial summed up this favoritism neatly:

“All this reinforces the reality that there are two classes of workers in America — the privileged union class (with public employees as the top caste) and everyone else who has to pay the tab for their rich perks.”

The Detroit News covered the PLA issue earlier this month (“Obama Rules Irk Nonunion Builders,” 5/1).

Nonunion contractors, who account for about 80 percent of construction work [in Michigan], charge the rules would effectively price them out of federal projects.

“We may get to bid on the projects, but when the rules are in favor of the unions, why would we win the bids?” said Chris Fisher, president of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Michigan. The trade association represents about 1,000 contract firms and 25,000 workers. [snip]

“This is just a political favor to unions by the Obama administration, and it’s unfair,” Fisher said.

Those who often cannot compete are minority firms and smaller businesses, he said.

The article also presented an interesting opinion from Dale Belman, a professor at Michigan State University’s School of Labor and Industrial Relations. Belman follows the construction industry, is a friend of Big Labor and a strong PLA advocate:

But studies show project labor agreements, which exist on other construction jobs, don’t have much effect on prices or who bids on the jobs, said Belman. [snip]

The surveys also show union contractors use diversity when it comes to hiring African-Americans, but nonunion contractors employ far more immigrant Latinos, Belman said.

Of course, there are plenty of studies and evidence that suggest that the first statement is false and there is a lack of evidence to support Belman’s second claim.

Later today or tomorrow, in Part II of this blog post, we will examine the evidence against Belman’s arguments and shed some sunlight on why Belman’s opinions on PLAs need to be considered carefully when it comes to supporting PLAs and Big Labor’s anti-competitive and costly PLA agenda.  Stay tuned.

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