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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.)

John Kunze:
Carpenters are paying $8 an hour?

They should outsource it to India and get the job done at $2 an hour. Just set up some large screen TVs on site with a live feed of marchers in Mumbai.
7.24.2007 3:27pm
Bill Sommerfeld (www):
actually, anyone who would nail a hammer into a wall shouldn't be allowed anywhere near hand tools (or anything else heavy, sharp, or pointy for that matter).
7.24.2007 3:30pm
Richard Riley (mail):
A sneer at a "sympathetic government official" who would skew the facts is an easy jab at the Davis-Bacon Act, but is there any actual evidence that "prevailing wages" as determined under the Act really differ from actual prevailing wages? This is an empirical question, not pro- or anti-Davis-Bacon, of arguments about which there is no end.
7.24.2007 3:32pm
Vivictius (mail):
Well, it depends on the area but up here in Alaska Non-Union, Non-Davis-Bacon jobs pay about half of what Davis-Bacon jobs do.
7.24.2007 3:38pm
tim maguire (mail):
Once upon a time I worked for a landscaping company that held some governmnet contracts that paid prevailing wage and some private contracts that didn't. The prevailing wage jobs paid more than twice what the private jobs did.

The work was the same, of course. The prevailing wage job orders were used as a sort of slush fund that the foreman steered towards his buddies.
7.24.2007 3:55pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
but is there any actual evidence that "prevailing wages" as determined under the Act really differ from actual prevailing wages?
Well, that's kind of the point, don't you think? If they didn't differ, the law would be superfluous.
7.24.2007 4:29pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
The actual prevailing wage may be the union wage that is typically used for Davis-Bacon in strongly union states. But many states have a lot of non-union trade workers, and in many of those, they predominate. Worse, in border states, there is often a lot of migrant (often illegal) trade workers, who drive the actual prevailing wage down even further.

The problem is that the Davis-Bacon prevailing rate is most often somewhere around the union rate, regardless of how much of the trade work force is actually unionized.

A friend of mine worked on the Rocky Flats nuclear cleanup. He greatly enjoyed the union wages, but the work rules drove him crazy. For example, they would often have a crew of four or five waiting around until the proper person could show up to change a standard light bulb. Even if wages had remained the same, he figures that the labor costs could have been halved by realistic work rules that allowed people to do the sort of normal tasks that they do in their every day lives.
7.24.2007 4:37pm
Coyote (mail) (www):
Here is a simpler proposal: Picketers for unions must be paid whatever wage the union is picketing to obtain.
7.24.2007 5:16pm
Smokey:
In his famous Economics In One Lesson, Henry Hazlitt conclusively shows that every dollar paid to a union member that is above the free market wage for that type of work, is a dollar that is taken out of the pockets of non-union workers and consumers in that community.
7.24.2007 8:11pm
msmith (mail):
...that is above the free market wage for that type of work, is a dollar that is taken out of the pockets of non-union workers and consumers in that community....

Free market wage = ? Legal American workers? Includes any illegal that can get across the border thanks to governments and employers who encourage that behaviour? The People's Republic of China and the rest of the world?

Anyway, a little suprising to see lawyers taking cheap shots at unions. The lawyers having some of the better, most restrictive unions in the country. All kinds of rules and practises designed solely to prop up the income of lawyers.

I'm pretty sure who would come in as less popular, as between carpenters or lawyers.
7.24.2007 8:32pm
Matt Tievsky (mail):
So you're saying that when a dollar goes in a union man's pocket, it doesn't go in someone else's pocket? Wow.
7.24.2007 8:40pm
Matt Tievsky (mail):
Bah, that was aimed at Smokey.
7.24.2007 8:41pm
LeftLeaningVolokhReader:
Yeah... and you libertarians should turn down your health insurance policies for you and your families (a la AEP) and quit jobs at State Universities (or private ones with government grants).

What's really nasty about your post is your condescending attitudes towards carpenters (and unions in general). In my local neighborhood bar, your snark on trade classifications would be equivalent of calling one of them legal positions "republican talking head spew".
7.25.2007 2:43am
CheckEnclosed (mail):
Based on anecdotal evidence, if you want decent working conditions as an office worker, don't work for a union.
7.25.2007 2:57am
Randy R. (mail):
Isn't this how the French Revolution started?
7.25.2007 11:21am
Smokey:
Matt-

That's not what I [actually, Henry Hazlitt] said. It means that if the free market wage for carpenters is $30/hr, and then half the carpenters in a community become unionized and start getting paid $32/hr, then over time the non-union carpenters will get $28/hr. for the exact same work. If that were not the case, a small handful of union workers could arrange to get paid $150/hr. Does that mean that the rest of the non-union work force would also get the same pay? No. Any pay for one group that exceeds the free market wage comes out of the pockets of other workers, or the community, or both.

msmith-
''Anyway, a little suprising to see lawyers taking cheap shots at unions.''
First off, I'm not a lawyer. And I was elected 4 times as president of my union's Local, and twice as my union district's statewide Treasurer. I'm not attacking unions per se. But no organization is perfect.

Also, my post had nothing to do with any argument about illegal immigration, although I can see how someone would make that connection today. Hazlitt's book was written well before the huge flood of illegals became a problem. Hazlitt was an economist, and he was demonstrating the detrimental effects on many members of the community who, for whatever reason, are unable to join a union. Unions cannot have every worker as members, because they would lose their economic leverage. If every carpenter in the country was unionized and getting paid union scale, the argument would be moot.

OTOH, the union leadership -- which is comprised of [literally] 99.9% high school graduates, [if that], who have simply learned to win union elections -- gets extravagant pay and benefits paid from the average of two hours' pay per month union dues from each union member -- willing or not.

When a union doubles its membership through organizing, the number of officers remains more or less the same. But the union members still have to fork over two hours' of their pay every month. The members never get a break from their own union. Recently, some 20,000 airline travel agents were organized. They pay an average of $45 a month to the union. You do the math. But their pay raises since becoming union members have not kept up with the cost of living -- and that's not even taking into consideration the $45/mo taken out of their pay for dues.
7.25.2007 1:41pm
LeftLeaningVolokhReader:
Smokey...

I'm missing your point. Is your argument - that Prevailing wages/union wages less arbitrary as Prof. Bernstein argues?
7.25.2007 2:42pm
Smokey:
Prof B says:
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...
'Prevailing wage' is a scam. In reality, it means the highest comparable wage, doesn't it? If 90% of carpenters get $28/hr, and 10% get $32/hr, guess what the 'prevailing wage' will be?

Like they say, ''Figures don't lie; but liars figure.''

'Prevailing wage' is a ratchet. It pushes up costs for everyone except the particular special interest that benefits at the expense of the rest of society.
7.25.2007 3:08pm