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EDITORIAL: Big Labor smackdown

Court upholds Michigan ban on project labor agreements

- - Monday, September 9, 2013

Labor unions are skilled labor at driving up costs. They use their cozy connections with politicians to legislate schemes giving government agencies no choice but to pay inflated union prices for certain types of projects through "project labor agreements." Those agreements may not be around much longer if a 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision handed down Friday holds.

In a free market, contracts would be awarded to those willing to do the best work at the best price. That's not the union way, which is to divide up simple tasks so that the man who installs the plumbing can't touch the light switch, ensuring two get paid for doing the job one person could handle. The inefficiency typically drives costs up 20 percent or more. Such contracts are much like agreements that have traditionally been called feather-bedding, and the featherbeds are soft, comfortable and inviting, indeed.

When building a bridge or digging a tunnel can cost billions, that 20 percent adds up to big money. So the reform-minded Michigan Legislature decided in 2011 that it no longer makes sense to hand a hefty share of taxpayer resources to union bosses. It banned state and local project labor agreements, and the unions predictably cried foul, hoping a federal judge would restore their monopoly on providing public services.

Big Labor won the first round in court, the more or less expected result before a friendly district judge, but lost the second. Writing for the appellate panel in Cincinnati, Judge John M. Rogers ruled that it's legitimate for a legislature to save money. "Michigan's statute advances the proprietary interest of efficient use of resources," wrote Judge Rogers, "and is limited enough to advance only that interest." The law was tightly written, designed to withstand pressure.

One of the first things President Obama did after stepping into the Oval Office in 2009 was to reward his union benefactors by signing Executive Order No. 13502, requiring all federal construction projects to operate under "project labor agreements." Eighteen states ban project labor agreements, but Congress couldn't resist labor union pressure, with the Republican-controlled House failing in a 218 to 198 vote to bar labor from driving up military spending costs.

Qualified non-union contractors ought to have a chance to win the job on the merits without having to pay union bosses to stand around and "supervise" working men who often are more skilled than such "supervisors," and only want to get on with the job.