How Unions Artificially Inflate Costs for Infrastructure
Inquiring minds are watching an excellent video on The Kudlow Report between Larry Kudlow and David Harkin.
Harkin is the author of a study on US infrastructure and a professor at the University of North Carolina Charlotte.
Kudlow: President Obama wants to spend another $50 billion on repairs to our infrastructure. Do we really need it? That would be on top of the over $100 billion for the nonshovel ready projects back in the 2009 stimulus. Remember that? There’s a new study that says we may not need it. Our roads and bridges are not crumbling and are much better than they were 20 years ago. How about that good news? David Harkin is the lead author of that study. David, thank you for coming on. I read the reports. Throughout the country in real terms adjusted for inflation, state control, highway spending has increased by 60%. 177% in nominal terms. 60% in real terms. They had good results.
Harkin: We were quite surprised when we looked at the numbers. The highway system has gotten better on all seven measures we looked at. Accidents rates are down. Even the pavements have been improved particularly for the interstate system. Even congestion is down too. This isn’t, I think, generally common knowledge. Most people think the infrastructure is crumbling or falling apart. We found just the opposite.
Kudlow: Why is Washington then, so manic and obsessive about pouring more and more infrastructure money? Why?
Harkin: Well, the fundamental problem here is that the states control how that money will be spent. Some of it comes from the federal government and some of it from the states. So the feeling in the states and in Washington is that we just need more and more and more. But in fact the numbers don’t support that. The numbers suggest that we’re making progress and that’s very good news for the public. So, in terms of where the issue should go here we ought to look very carefully at whether these requests are really needed.
Kudlow: David, here’s one of my big beefs. This is highway money and bridge money. Davis-Bacon, the prevailing union wick, once you use federal dollars and it’s true for these big union states like New York, New Jersey and California, Once do you that you have to pay the Davis-Bacon prevailing union wage rate which is at least a third higher than if you did it privately. That’s my biggest beef about spending all this money.
Harkin: In our study we showed the cost for doing this work are much higher in a few states compared with the rest of the country like California, New Jersey, New York are very high cost states relative to the other states. To go back to the earlier question regarding whether this is just a problem of the interstate system or whether the civil engineering report is correct, you know, let’s remember the civil engineering report looks at only one year and is based on opinions from local experts. But it doesn’t look back in time to see whether we made progress. David Harkin thank you ever so much. congratulations on your study which blows the lid off all this infrastructure money proposal coming out of Washington.
I have discussed Davis-Bacon on many occasions. Inquiring minds interested in a background on the original purpose of the act should read My Thoughts on the Davis-Bacon Act.
“… while the sponsors and supporters of the Act also intended it to disadvantage immigrant workers of other races, these thinly veiled references make it clear that the Act was primarily intended to discriminate against blacks.”
The Davis-Bacon Act as amended, requires that each contract over $2,000 to which the United States or the District of Columbia is a party for the construction, alteration, or repair of public buildings or public works shall contain a clause setting forth the minimum wages to be paid to various classes of laborers and mechanics employed under the contract. Under the provisions of the Act, contractors or their subcontractors are to pay workers employed directly upon the site of the work no less than the locally prevailing wages and fringe benefits paid on projects of a similar character. The Davis-Bacon Act directs the Secretary of Labor to determine such local prevailing wage rates.
There are 117 classifications of jobs for which some set of bureaucrats must determine “prevailing wages”. Here is a partial list:
ASBE = International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Asbestos Workers
BOIL = International Brotherhood of Boiler Makers, Iron Shipbuilders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers
BRXX = International Union of Bricklayers, and Allied Craftsmen
(bricklayers, cement masons, stone masons, tile, marble and terrazzo workers)
CARP = United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America
ELEC = International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
(electricians, communication systems installers, and other low voltage specialty workers)
ELEV = International Union of Elevator Constructors
ENGI = International Union of Operating Engineers
(operators of various types of power equipment)
IRON = International Association of Bridge, Structural and Ornamental Iron Workers
LABO = Laborers’ International Union of North America
PAIN = International Brotherhood of Painters and Allied Trades
(painters, drywall finishers, glaziers, soft floor layers)
PLUM = Operative Plasterers’ and Cement Masons’ International Association of the United States and Canada
PLAS = United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada
ROOF = United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers
SHEE = Sheet Metal Workers International Association
TEAM = International Brotherhood of Teamsters
Even FDR Understood the Problem
Public unions get into bed with management and politicians and work out sweet deals for themselves at taxpayer expense. No one looks out for the taxpayer. Even FDR understood the problem.
Message From FDR
Here are excerpts from a Letter from FDR Regarding Collective Bargaining of Public Unions written August 16, 1937.
All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management.
The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations.
Particularly, I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of Government employees.
A strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable.
Time to Scrap Davis-Bacon, End Public Union Collective Bargaining
Before any project can be economically viable, labor costs must be addressed, and that is exactly why we need to scrap Davis-Bacon and all prevailing wage laws. We also need to eliminate collective bargaining of public unions.
Unless and until we do that, we will dramatically overpay for infrastructure projects and taxpayers will pay through the nose for them.
Government should strive to provide the most services at the least cost. Public unions strive to provide the fewest services at the most cost. Is it any wonder cities and states are broke?
About the author: Mike “Mish” Shedlock is a registered investment advisor representative for Sitka Pacific Capital Management. His top-rated global economics blog Mish’s Global Economic Trend Analysis offers insightful commentary every day of the week. He is also a contributing “professor” on Minyanville, a community site focused on economic and financial education. Every Thursday he does a podcast on HoweStreet and on an ad hoc basis he contributes to many other websites, including UnionWatch.