Costly union rules holding back construction business

By Seth Grossman, Political Columnist

Last week, Republican Gov. Chris Christie spoke to a convention of the Laborers International Union in Atlantic City.

Many unions in the construction business represent workers with certain skills ? plumbers, electricians, carpenters, ironworkers, heavy equipment operators, etc. Union leaders claim their workers have superior skills in these fields and are therefore entitled to higher pay and benefits than anyone else who does the same work for non-union companies.

But the Laborers Union represents workers who do unskilled work ? holding the caution flags on roadside projects, pushing wheelbarrows, bringing tools and supplies to skilled workers, etc. And sweeping the floor when the job is done.

Anyone doing this same work for a non-union company would probably get $10 to $20 per hour. That is because many people ? especially young folks starting out with no skills, training, or experience ? typically do this work for low pay to learn skills that would get them started in the construction business.

Some of the most successful business and professional people I know in Atlantic County spent their college summers doing that work for builders like David Herzberg, Sam Schoffer, and Jack Trocki in the 1960s and 1970s, when housing prices were affordable for almost everyone.

But the law of supply and demand is not allowed to work where unions run things. The Laborer?s Union has a contract with every union construction company that pays unskilled workers cleaning up construction sites $48 to $53 per hour in wages, pension, and health care benefits. One worker must be a foreman who gets $57 to $61 per hour. There is extra pay for work done after 6 p.m., overtime for more than eight hours in a day, and double time for Sundays or holidays.

The wages are roughly $30 per hour, which means every union laborer makes about $1,200 per week when there is work. These jobs don?t last long, but after just 26 weeks, they qualify for 99 weeks of unemployment compensation at $500 to $600 per week, plus for whatever they do on the side.

Because of these salaries and work rules, and the cost of getting zoning and environmental permits from the government, the cost of building anything in New Jersey is higher than what the building is worth when finished.

If we had liberty, nobody would hire union contractors to build anything in New Jersey. This would force union construction companies to push back against union demands, and work with other taxpayers to demand an end to oppressive rules and regulation that drive up costs and crush business.

Once these costs are brought under control there would be a building boom that would keep workers busy building new roads, bridges, and factories all year long ? the way it used to be in New Jersey.

But so far, nobody in the political system, not unions not contractors, not Republicans not Democrats, has any interest in bringing costs under control. Instead they all agreed to ?stimulate the economy? by having the government bail out a select handful of overpriced projects by increasing tolls, taxes, and electric bills, and borrowing billions more.

And so taxpayers spent $400 million to replace two small drawbridges between Ocean City and Somers Point ? double the cost of the 17.6-mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel over open ocean near Virginia Beach.

Taxpayers paid $400 million of the $1.2 billion Revel Casino, a project that cost six times as much as the Golden Nugget and Resorts casino projects. And taxpayers paid $11 million for a convention center in Cape May and $7 million to $9 million each to re-build two empty and obsolete movie theaters in Millville and Vineland.

Both Republican Gov. Chris Christie and Democrat Sen. Steve Sweeney are bragging that these projects are so ?successful? that they are now planning others that are even bigger and more expensive.

They want more government debt to build two Revel-like private shopping centers in North Jersey, and to tear down a structurally safe and sound free bridge across the Delaware River upstate and build a new and bigger toll bridge.

Meanwhile large sections of Routes 40, 322, 47, and 347 remain death traps, while most other roads are starting to look like roads in Tijuana or Juarez, Mexico.

All state gasoline taxes now pay nothing but debt on overpriced projects built in the past. There is no money for new construction or repairs, unless we raise taxes again, or repudiate that unconstitutional debt.

Somers Point attorney Seth Grossman appears on 92.1FM 8-9 a.m. Saturday. For information see, email or call (609) 927-7333. Breakfast discussions are held 9:30-10:30 a.m. every Saturday at the Shore Diner on Fire and Tilton roads in Egg Harbor Township.

(Reprinted from May 23, 2012 Current-Gazette Newspapers of Atlantic and Cape May Counties,

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  • Seth Grossman

    Seth Grossman is executive director of Liberty And Prosperity, which he co-founded in 2003. It promotes American liberty and limited constitutional government through weekly radio and in-person discussions, its website, email newsletters and various events. Seth Grossman is also a general practice lawyer.

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