Union uses non-union labor to save money on construction

Union leaders love to talk about the need for union solidarity — at least until they see the bill.

The United Auto Workers is one of the most high-profile unions in the country. It represents hundreds of thousands of North American workers and has a $721 million strike fund. It also owns 1,000 acres along a lake in northern Michigan, which it claims to use as an education center.

The union is currently building a lakefront home there for retired UAW President Dennis Williams, The Detroit News reported recently. The plans show the home will have granite counters, a wine cooler, a hidden room accessible via a movable bookshelf and views of the lake. It’s unclear how a retirement getaway for a former president is a wise use of union dollars, but at least the UAW figured out a way to save money on the project.

The union put the house out to bid, requiring the use of union members on the project. It got two bids, one for $850,000 and one for $1.3 million. UAW officials rejected both as too high. The estate is now being built with a mix of union and nonunion labor. The company that’s doing the building’s foundation and sewer is nonunion. The union also outsourced some of the electrical work to a nonunion shop.

The hypocrisy is obvious and provides an important policy lesson for Nevadans.

State law currently requires that most government projects pay union wage rates, called the prevailing wage. Prevailing wage rates are 45 percent higher than market wages, according to a 2011 study from the Nevada Policy Research Institute.

In 2015, Republicans attempted to repeal those requirements for new school construction. Union leaders and their allies filled the committee room with predictions of doom if lawmakers overturned prevailing wage requirements. It would endanger worker safety and decrease the quality of school construction, they claimed. What they were really worried about was nonunion labor significantly underbidding them.

At the end of the session, politicians passed a bill allowing schools to pay 90 percent of the prevailing wage rate. Unsurprisingly, the doomsday scenario of faulty construction and worker injuries outlined by the union and its allies hasn’t come true.

With Democrats firmly in charge in Carson City, it’s almost certain they will roll back those modest prevailing wage reforms. Undoubtedly, they’ll talk about the importance of union labor to ensuring the quality of a project and worker safety.

When they do, just remember the UAW. Nonunion labor is safe enough for the homes of union leaders, which means it can be safe enough for Nevadans, too.

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