The Declarer (Floyd McWilliams' Blog)

Monday, December 01, 2003

Lowe's is attempting to build a home-improvement supply megastore in San Jose. America is a "free country" with "private property." That property can be bought and sold freely, but attempts to develop it are controlled so tightly as to make any socialist planner proud. If I want to add a room to my house, it's a political issue as I must seek the permission of the town of Woodside. And a large project such as Lowe's is a contentious political issue, involving San Jose's planning commission, city council, and public opinion.

One group that is throwing a spanner in the works is the local labor unions. Lowe's is using non-union labor for construction, so labor is using environmental issues as a stick with which to beat Lowe's. Also they are complaining that the store construction is "dumb growth with low-paying jobs". (Like it would be good for union members if all grocery stores were the expensive specialty retailer Whole Foods, and all restaurants had entree prices no lower than $25?)

I criticized the quoted article on my blog two weeks ago, but the people who are really beating the drum against cynical union nonsense are ... the San Jose Mercury News editorial writers! Yes, the Merc called shenanigans on just about every left-wing misunderstanding of economics and job growth:

But the most powerful opposition to the project comes from labor leaders, who failed to persuade the company to use only union contractors. To put pressure on Lowe's, the unions have taken up the banner of the environment -- but it's a sham. Nobody in the know is fooled.

Keeping Lowe's out over labor issues would be unconscionable.

The company puts construction work out to bid. Whoever makes the best offer, union or non-union, gets the work. That's fair.

As to long-term jobs, Lowe's will employ 200 people, 70 to 75 percent of them full-time with benefits. Wages will range from $9 to $23 an hour, according to Jim Manion, Lowe's senior site development manager. The average will be $14 an hour.

Will these jobs make anyone rich? No. Will any of the thousands of people who are unemployed in San Jose want to work at Lowe's? Just put up that ``Now hiring'' sign, and watch the lines form around the block.

And for good measure, the Merc was at it again today:

Just one example of unions driving up costs
Mercury News Editorial

There's a public cost when unions use trumped up environmental protests to delay a building project when what they really want is a labor agreement. But how do you put a dollar figure on that cost?

Here's one example.

Last week the San Jose Redevelopment Agency had to ask the city council for more money -- up to $24,500 -- to finish the environmental impact report on a downtown housing and commercial site near San Pedro Square.


Because a law firm hired by local unions filed such a voluminous challenge to the EIR -- the cover letter alone was 50 pages, single-spaced -- that answering them will take far more time for consultants than the initial $165,000 contract provided.

12/2 Update: The Merc won't let go! Yet another opinion piece was added today:

When unions use `greenmail'
By Kevin Dayton

When the Santa Clara Building and Construction Trades Council used environmental objections against a proposed Lowe's home improvement store in San Jose, it used a relatively new strategy that has proven highly effective to win union control of privately funded construction work.

Gone are the days when construction unions could organize workers by persuading them to unite under union solidarity against an oppressive corporate regime. Today few people believe the dated language in the California Labor Code that ``the individual unorganized worker is helpless to exercise actual liberty of contract and to protect his freedom of labor, and thereby to obtain acceptable terms and conditions of employment.'' Only 20 percent of construction workers in California are represented by a union, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Since construction unions are not very successful in organizing workers through traditional methods, they now exploit government regulations to eliminate competition from capable and innovative ``merit shop'' non-union contractors and their employees. To win control of privately funded commercial, industrial and residential projects, unions use ``greenmail,'' objecting to environmental permits and delaying the approval of projects until the owners sign a union-only project labor agreement or some other union-only guarantee. This is the tactic unions are using against Lowe's.



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