Anent yesterday’s Washington Post story about the carpenter’s union hiring the homeless as picketers (previous posts here and here), the law professor bloggers at The Volokh Conspiracy took on the issue. Especially liked this observation from David Bernstein:
A Davis-Bacon Act for “Hired Feet”: If, as Orin points out, the Carpenter’s Union is hiring workers for $8 an hour to picket on its behalf, it’s obvious that what we need is a private sector Davis-Bacon Act for “hired feet” picketers. The picketers would then just need a sympathetic government official to do a skewed “wage survey” that would determine that the “prevailing wage” for picketers ranged from $15 to $40 an hour, with the guys who just stand around and smoke getting $15 an hour, experienced, trained sign holders getting $30 an hour, and those who are able to both walk and hold a sign getting $40 an hour. Unfortunately, the “smokers” wouldn’t be allowed to become sign holders or walker/holders without participating in an apprenticeship program. Of course, the homeless who now hold the picketing positions will be priced out of a job, but that’s a small price to pay for improving the lot of the working class.
(Note: The real Davis-Bacon Act has long benefited members of Carpenter’s Union, both by mandating wages above real market for federally financed projects, and by creating absurd work rules such that anyone who wants to hammer a nail into a wall is deemed a “carpenter” and must be paid carpenters’ wages. Low-paid helpers can only obtain higher union job classifications through union or government-sponsored apprenticeship programs, regardless of on-the-job training.)
BTW, the Farm Bill speeding its way through the House (H.R. 2419) extends Davis-Bacon requirements to workers building ethanol plants. James Sherk at the Heritage Foundation examines the issue in this webmemo. Here is the abstract:
An amendment to the House’s farm bill (H.R. 2419) would extend Davis-Bacon Act wages, which are set far above average market wages, to workers building new ethanol plants. Labor unions favor Davis-Bacon mandates because they block price competition from nonunion competitors, but the higher wages bring no public benefits and actually harm taxpayers by increasing the costs of covered projects. In this case, Davis-Bacon wages would raise the cost of producing ethanol, in turn raising the price of ethanol-blended gasoline. Congress should not add a Davis-Bacon provision to the farm bill.
Demand for construction workers to build ethanol plants is already high, so they’re probably already making Davis-Bacon wage levels. So perhaps the real purpose of this amendment is to cement congressional allegiance to Big Labor. When they say jump…
UPDATE (10:40 a.m.):
Turns out WJLA, ABC Channel 7 in D.C., reported on the homeless picketers a few months ago. WRC-TV Channel 4 has a video report, available via The Oregonian’s video blog here.
UPDATE (noon): This story has been told several times. We’ll figure it out and provide a summary.
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