Sunday, February 8, 2009

How Obama Wants to Spend Your Money

On Friday, Barack Obama issued an executive order requiring all "substantial" government contracts to utilize only Union Labor.

Just for a little Sunday night fun, I figured I'd let you in on a few of the goodies that come with Union affiliation. These will primarily be examples from Chicago, since that's my experience.

In Chicago, we have a Union for everything. One of my favorites is the Operating Engineers. This union is comprised of all the people that run construction equipment. A cool rule that this group has is the way they get paid on days involving inclement weather. More than likely arising from the Tower Crane Operators, since it's a long climb to the top, Union Operators automatically get paid for a half a day just by virtue of showing up. An extension of that rule is that, should an operator be lucky enough to start his machine, he gets the whole day. Now obviously they need to wait for a certain time, but as soon as, I believe it's 7:00 AM rolls around, they're home free. From this, you end up with people working the system, knowing it's going to rain, rushing to the site to fire up their machine as soon as the time is right, whether a work-stopping downpour is iminent or not.

In Chicago, the Operating Engineers also "own" the elevators on any construction project. You haven't lived until you've walked into the elevator to see a big fat guy sitting on a little stool, leaning back with a foot on the wall near the buttons, and pushing the buttons with a stick. Always good to know with the Operators that you're getting a good bang for your $90/hr.

One of my other favorite situations is which union "owns" the installation of Toilet Accessories. Toilet Accessories are the towel bars, toilet paper holders, soap dispensers, paper towel dispensers, baby changing stations, and all those types of goodies on the walls in bathrooms. In Chicago, it's pretty typical that this stuff gets installed by Carpenters. The Plumbers, however, have a clause in their contracts claiming these installations. Now, this would normally not be that big of a deal, except that the difference in cost is about $20/hr, and the plumbers are never very good at the installations anyway. As managers, we can typically avoid the issue by getting a quote from the plumbers that is too high and having them pass the documentation back to the Business Agent, but with an historic number of union plumbers on the bench right now, things could start getting ugly about who is going to be allowed to install your next tampon dispenser.

Now, all of this kind of stuff is old hat in Chicago. We've been a union town forever and we know what to expect and how to deal with it up front. But what about territories that aren't necessarily union already?

I ran into this situation a few years ago, when I had to put a proposal together for the new Army Reserve Center in Neenah, WI. The project was about $10 million and was going to draw a heck of a crowd of subcontractors to deal with. It did not disappoint. Neenah is pretty much smack in the middle of the state, and is a small town. Therefore there is really no union presence based there. Green Bay has a union, and Milwaukee has a different union, and both cities have contractors that go to Appleton. In a town like this, we had to know the rules for the unions from two completely different cities.

Now, having personally worked with companies from Wisconsin in the past, they are purely about integrity and I can't imagine this beocming an issue, but I only use the conflict of territories as an example.

Just imagine the dogfight that will be taking place between unions in this kind of situation! Electricians from Green Bay might be cheaper than Electricians from Milwaukee, but with the lack of overall available work, how vicious will the politicking be to get the work on the part of the companies from Milwaukee?

Thanks to Barack Obama, it's gonna be a hell of a ride!


  1. Hmmm

    Is his order even constitutional?

  2. You know I wondered the same thing. I've been unable to find the actual text of the order itself, though, only reports on it.

    Apparently he's reinstating something that was in place under Clinton, though, that Bush subsequently repealed.

    What I find particularly egregious is that 84% of all construction companies in the country are non-union.

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