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Reason Foundation

When unions do the žexploitingÓ

Ted Balaker
August 17, 2006, 10:21am

An Ohio carpenters union targets contractors and property-management companies, which it says don't pay carpenters a standard wage of $22.50 an hour, pick up health-insurance premiums or offer pension packages. So they picket these establishments and engage in all the usual activities: they holler, hold signs, and pass out fliers. But union members don't actually do the rabble-rousing themselves. They're too busy working, so they outsource the jobs to low-wage workers: Somehow the traditional union scorn for part-time, low-wage, zero-benefits jobs (not to mention outsourcing) disappears. The union hires these workers for 10 hours per week, at 8 bucks an hour, and apparently no benefits. This isn't the first time this has happened. In Henderson, Nevada the UFCW recently targeted Wal-Mart and outsourced the picketing duties. The temporary workers protested in 104 degree heat, earned 6 bucks an hour and received no benefits. The "exploited" workers inside Wal-Mart enjoyed higher pay, benefits, and air conditioning. This kind of union outsourcing happens fairly often, says Jim Graham, a Whitehall councilman who oversees the carpenters council's organizers. To be fair the union is paying well over minimum wage, but to borrow a common union refrain: "You can't support a family on 80 bucks a week!" He justifies the low wages by saying that picketers may have no prior work experience. Exactly. And even low wage jobs have value for they give workers some place to start: In a 1995 court case a group called ACORN gave a very good summary of why mandated wages are a bad idea: BTW, as you may know, ACORN is one of the nation's most outspoken proponents of living wage legislation. More on that here; via Russell Roberts. Ohio article here; thanks to my colleague Geoff for the tip.

Ted Balaker is Producer

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