An Honest Union Man

by James Sherk

Give Josh Eidelson credit. The former union organizer wants to shut out competition, but at least he’s honest about it.

In his recent Salon column criticizing the Republican platform, he was remarkably open about the union movement’s motivations. Education unions typically argue against school choice by arguing vouchers don’t work and ignoring the evidence to the contrary. But as Eidelson explains, that is not why they hate vouchers:

Like the platform at McCain’s convention, this year’s supports school vouchers, which channel tax dollars to generally non-union private schools . . .

Unions oppose vouchers because they allow students to attend non-union schools. The fact children given vouchers are substantially more likely to finish high school is a secondary concern. The National Education Association wants only its members teaching America’s children.

Unions support the Davis-Bacon Act for the same reason. This law requires contractors on federally funded construction projects to pay “prevailing wage” rates. Rates that, coincidentally enough, are usually union rates. Unions usually argue that the Davis-Bacon Act protects taxpayers from shoddy construction jobs by untrained workers. But as Eidelson admits, that is not the primary reason unions support the act:

Both PLAs [Project Labor Agreements] and Davis-Bacon establish wage standards for construction projects, making it easier for contractors that use union labor to compete with cheaper non-union contractors for work.

The Davis-Bacon Act forces everyone who builds government projects to pay union rates. That prevents unions from getting underbid. It also has the taxpayers getting charged $47 per hour (plus benefits) to hire electricians in Philadelphia, when the going rate is $34 an hour.

Great work if you can get it, but Davis-Bacon inflates government construction costs by more than $10 billion a year. The savings from paying normal wages would fund enough infrastructure projects to employ 150,000 more construction workers. Somehow that never gets mentioned when the AFL-CIO argues America urgently needs more federal construction spending.

Economically, unions are labor cartels. They attempt to control the supply of labor in an industry in order to raise its price. To be effective they need to shut out competitors, but they do not normally admit it.