One primary reason California has the highest cost-of-living (and cost of doing business) in America, combined with a crumbling infrastructure, is because California’s construction unions have allied themselves with environmental extremists and crony “green” capitalists, instead of fighting for what might actually help their state.

California’s construction unions ought to take a look around the rest of the country, where thousands of jobs are being created in the energy industries – really good jobs – doing something that actually helps ordinary people. Because the natural gas revolution unleashed in North Dakota, Texas, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio is creating thousands of jobs in those states at the same time as it lowers the cost of energy for consumers who struggle to make ends meet.

More generally, construction unions should remember that it is not only how much their own members earn that matters, but how much things cost everyone. If things cost less, you can make less yet enjoy the same standard of living. When unions fight for high paying jobs on projects that are useless, they only help themselves. When they fight for projects – such as natural gas development – that lower the cost of energy, they are helping everyone.

The California Public Policy Center released a new study this week entitled “The Benefits and Costs of Oil and Gas Development in California,” written by Dr. Tim Considine, an energy economist with the University of Wyoming. In the study, Considine estimates the recoverable reserves of shale oil in the South San Joaquin Valley to total 15 billion barrels, with another 10 billion barrels offshore in the Santa Barbara Channel, accessible now from land-based wells using slant drilling. At $100 a barrel, this is $2.5 trillion worth of oil. And where there’s oil, there’s gas – over 12 trillion cubic feet just offshore in the Santa Barbara channel. What are we waiting for?

Developing these sources of energy over the next 25 years in California, according to Considine, could create up to 500,000 high paying jobs in the energy industry and inject hundreds of billions of tax revenue into the state’s government. When are California’s construction unions going to fight for something that actually helps all Californians?

Instead, apparently, they are lobbying hand in hand with environmental extremists for a “Bullet Train” that almost nobody will ever ride – costing taxpayers over $100 billion so it can operate at a loss – and “Delta Tunnels” that will cost tens of billions and not increase the supply of fresh water in California by so much as one drop.

Can unions themselves be guilty of “labor malpractice”? Because unions are supposed to fight for the interests of ordinary people. They are not supposed to join hands with rich, elitist, misanthropic environmentalist fanatics who live in wealthy coastal enclaves, who would be thrilled if gasoline cost over $10.00 a gallon, and electricity rates were over $1.00 per kilowatt-hour. That’s where we’re headed in California if construction labor doesn’t wake up and fight for ordinary people.

Here are two visions of California’s infrastructure priorities:

(1) Spend $150 billion on a bullet train that almost nobody rides and operates at a loss, and build two “delta tunnels” that do not result in one drop of additional water storage or supply. Prohibit development of any fossil fuel reserves in California. Finance this prodigious waste of money through increasing taxes along with proceeds from “carbon emissions auctions” that enrich Wall Street billionaires and crony “green” capitalists. Continue to neglect California’s infrastructure.

(2) Develop California’s energy resources using private financing, creating hundreds of thousands of high-paying jobs, generating hundreds of billions in tax revenue, and lowering the cost of energy to consumers. Use proceeds to help finance infrastructure investments that benefit all Californians:
–  New aquifer and surface water storage.
–  Desalination plants on the Southern California coast.
–  New power stations – natural gas and nuclear.
–  New natural gas pipelines connecting California to the rest of North America.
–  A liquid natural gas terminal off the Central California coast.
–  Upgraded freeways, bridges, and existing rail corridors.

Which of these visions delivers prosperity to the most people? Which creates more jobs for members of construction unions? Which reflects truly beneficial infrastructure priorities for California?

California’s construction unions have thousands of members who want to build and produce real assets. This distinguishes them from public sector unions, who have an incentive to deny infrastructure spending because it takes tax revenue out of their own pockets. Public sector unions use environmentalist extremists for cover – it justifies them keeping public funds for their pay and benefits instead of investing in infrastructure. There is NO identity of interests between public sector unions and construction unions, other than a residual ideological affinity that falls apart under logical examination.

Perhaps it is time for California’s construction unions, joined by people of conscience from all unions, to care more about all of California’s workers. Perhaps it is possible for construction union leadership to agree to disagree with union reformers on the issue of open shops vs closed shops, or project labor agreements vs. free and open competition, and at least recognize together that environmentalist extremists have too much power in California. They should be challenged, before more money we don’t have is spent on projects we don’t need, simply because it was politically feasible and created a handful of jobs.

*   *   *

Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center

RELATED POSTS

Bipartisan Solutions For California, October 27, 2013

Forming a Bipartisan Consensus for Public Sector Union Reform, January 28, 2014

2 Responses to Construction Unions Should Fight for Infrastructure that Helps the Economy

  1. Richard Markuson says:

    My Capitol experience suggests construction unions are more interested in expanding prevailing wage coverage, increasing penalties for employers who make mistakes in paying wages under California’s Byzantine prevailing wage law, fighting with each other over scope of work, and avoiding any need to do organizing by imposing discriminatory PLAs on all public works construction.

  2. Kevin Dayton says:

    Today (April 2, 2014) at the Assembly Budget Subcommittee #3 hearing, the lobbyist for the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California spoke in support of California High-Speed Rail. (A lobbyist for the California Labor Federation also spoke in support of it.) Unions have a Project Labor Agreement on the high-speed rail program. Construction of the bullet train is billions of dollars for decades to unions from taxpayers – they’ll never let it go.

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