By: Bob Lucore
As part of his effort to brand himself as a “severe-conservative,” Mitt Romney has recently gone on a full-out attack against labor unions. However, there was a time not too long ago when Romney counted heavily on union labor.
Speaking last week before the “severely” anti-union Associated Builder and Contractors (ABC), Romney attacked prevailing wage laws and Project Labor Agreements (PLAs).
Romney’s approach to PLAs is illustrative. To gain the endorsement of the ABC he said:
"I will curb the practice we have in this country of giving union bosses an unfair advantage in contracting. One of the first things I will do is end the government's favoritism towards unions in contracting on federal projects and end project labor agreements."
PLAs set certain minimum standards for workers (both union and nonunion), and the contractors that employ them, on large projects. They have been used with great success on large projects, both public and private, since the 1930s. The ABC’s members would apparently prefer that such projects employ workers with substandard skills, pay employees below prevailing wages and allow for fly-by night contractors. The ABC has a history of attacking PLAs using false accusations and shoddy statistical techniques, as Laura Clawson has pointed out.
Romney understood the value of PLAs when he was heading up Salt Lake City’s efforts to prepare for the Winter Olympic in 2002. He understood the value of skilled union labor too. This video shows Romney thanking the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) for their members’ efforts in constructing and lighting the Olympic rings displayed on a mountain above the city.
Romney also relied on the work of several other unions, working under a PLA, to construct a major highway that made the Olympics possible. On-time and under-budget, the highway project was declared the outstanding civil engineering project of 2002 by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
In 2002, when the chips were down and he needed reliable, timely, high-quality work, Romney relied on union workers, union contractors and PLAs. Now, he is finding it convenient to bash labor and pander to the ABC.
Bob Lucore, a long-time ADA board member, is the former Director of Research and Policy for the United American Nurses and has worked for the Teamsters and the Department of Economic Research at the AFL-CIO. . He taught economics for several years at Centre College and Colorado State University. Bob is a member of UAW Local 1981, the National Writers Union.Back