Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

Labor Uses Environmental “Concern” For Own Benefit

tortoiseThe New York Times featured an article today illustrating everything that is wrong with unions.

The focus of the piece is the so-called labor-funded group, California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE). The organization claims on its website to “help solve the State’s energy problems by building, maintaining and operating conventional and renewable energy power plant.” If it were only so simple.

They neglect to mention that they essentially block solar power companies that they consider to be not labor-friendly from obtaining permits and contracts. The group slows the approval process for new solar power plants down to a tortoise’s pace by filing complaints, demanding environmental studies, and providing hostile testimony at public hearings if unionized workers are not employed at the project.

When a company called Ausra filed plans for a big solar power plant in California, it was deluged with demands from a union group that it study the effect on creatures like the short-nosed kangaroo rat and the ferruginous hawk.

By contrast, when a competitor, BrightSource Energy, filed plans for an even bigger solar plant that would affect the imperiled desert tortoise, the same union group, California Unions for Reliable Energy, raised no complaint. Instead, it urged regulators to approve the project as quickly as possible.

One big difference between the projects? Ausra had rejected demands that it use only union workers to build its solar farm, while BrightSource pledged to hire labor-friendly contractors.

Solar power developers say that if they commit to use union labor, environmental objections “never materialize.”

It’s hard to imagine labor bosses worrying about whether a solar power plant is going to affect the mating patterns of a specific species of bird. California energy commissoner Jeffrey Byron expressed his incredulity at labor laweyers showing up to express concern at hearings:

“This does stress the limits of credibility to some extent when an attorney representing a labor union is so focused on the potential impact of a solar power plant on birds.”

Labor’s attempts to undermine developers with threats of regulation have real costs that adversely affect consumers and the industry’s competitiveness:

But skeptics fear that union control of renewable energy projects will saddle the nascent industry with high costs and undermine its competitiveness.

“These environmental challenges are the unions’ major tactic to maintain their share of industrial construction — we call it greenmail,” said Kevin Dayton, state government affairs director for the Associated Builders and Contractors of California. “The future of solar energy is jeopardized by these unions holding up construction.”

In California, project labor agreements can raise costs on a project by about 20 percent, Mr. Dayton estimated.

Some developers are forthcoming with how effective labor unions are with their methods:

“Let’s just say that it is clear to us from experience that if we do not enter into a project labor agreement, the costs and schedule of the project is interminable,” said Douglas Wert, chief executive of Spinnaker Energy, a San Diego company hired to build two solar farms for Portuguese developer Martifer.

Labor has long relied on threats through various means to achieve their agenda. Using the plight of the short-nosed kangaroo rat or desert tortoise, however, has to be a new low. The only thing endangered in California are the jobs that will never materialize and the pockets of consumers who will pay more for power.

Categories: Center for Union FactsEFACNews