Uncivil Unions

[cross-posted from]

While civil society is great in general, that’s not always true for each group in civil society. Teachers’ unions, for instance, are my favorite example of civil society actors who are in it for us at the expense of others (see or this issue of Labor Watch).

Teachers’ unions regularly fight tooth and nail for their members’ benefit, with scant regard for whether they harm children and parents. Yet even I am amazed at the story of another union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), which in New York and New Jersey has resisted the help of non-union utility crews that came up to help restore power.

This story has gone back and forth since Sandy hit, and the precise extent to which unions have kept out non-union crews is unclear. But in the case of at least one IBEW local — number 1049 on Long Island, New York (whose financial info. can be found here) – it’s clear that their greed and lust for control blocked the would-be assistance of crews from Florida. The Daily Caller has posted the “contract” that local 1049 insisted upon before they would allow their fellow Americans to help citizens in desperate need.

Here, in all their bureaucratic glory, are some of the unselfish demands local 1049 had for anyone trying to help New Yorkers:

1. That for the period of time October 29, 2012 through November 29, 2012, UTILITY agrees to normal working hours and overtime provided for in Article VIII of the Utility Agreement….
3. That for the period of time … UTILITY shall contribute $9.75 per work hour to the Union Health and Welfare Fund … as outlined in the Utility Agreement, Article XIX.
4. That for the period of time … UTILITY shall contribute 22 ½ % of each employee’s gross salary into the “I.B.E.W. Local 1049 Craft Annuity Fund” as provided in Section 19.20 of the Utility Agreement.
5. That for the period of time … UTILITY shall contribute 3% of each employee’s gross salary into the “I.B.E.W. Local 1049 Craft Division Skill Improvement Fund” as provided in Section 19.03 of the Utility Agreement.
6. That for the period of time … UTILITY shall contribute 3% of each employee’s gross salary to the local collection agent for the “National Electrical Benefit Fund” as provided in Section 19.05 of the Utility Agreement.

There’s much, much more – extortions are also made for the Electricity Industry Administrative Maintenance Trust of Northeastern Line Constructors Chapter, NECA fund; the National Labor Management Cooperation Committee; the National Electrical Industry Fund; the Northeastern Joint Apprenticeship and Training Trust; and, of course,

“UTILITY shall deduct 1% of gross payroll for employees for the period of time October 29, 2012 through November 29, 2012 and shall remit the same to the IBEW Local 1049 as union dues.”

Talk about the milk of human kindness….

The Daily Caller did the math, and if a nonunion crew foreman would normally earn $40 per hour in Florida, the eleven extortions in the “contract” would jump the hourly wage to $67.74; for work on weekends or after 4 p.m. weekdays, the rate would rise to $70.38.

It’s not hard to see why states like New York have disastrous financial problems with unionized government workers and why local governments are going bankrupt from union demands. Consider, for example, a recent report from the Manhattan Institute which, after reviewing financial data for New York state and its largest local governments, school districts, and public authorities, reveals that the state’s total unfunded liability for public-sector retiree health insurance comes to nearly a quarter of a trillion dollars.

Still, it’s the unquantifiable rupture in the social fabric that most appalls. As Glenn Cunningham, who works for Diverse Power in LaGrange, Georgia, told the Daily Caller in a story about another instance of IBEW selfishness:

to have to return without assisting, to see the mess that is up there, to hear the reports of how miserable it is for many residents, just sickens me. When major storms happen down here in the South, everybody just bails in and starts helping. There’s 42 electrical cooperatives here in Georgia, and we work alongside Georgia Power, which is all unionized. Most of the co-ops are not … [but] everybody works together.

Contrast the ugliness of unions and big government bureaucracy in the Northeast to what happened when an especially terrible set of tornadoes struck Alabama in spring 2011. As I wrote then, an amazing community effort spontaneously arose from local businesses, churches, citizens, and even right-wing talk radio stations owned by Clear Channel.

The radio stations turned themselves into 24-hour “relief clearinghouses,” broadcasting urgent pleas for help that brought near-immediate aid to all in need, whether those in need had a different skin color, party registration, or union status from those offering help or were even in the country illegally. As University of Alabama professor David Beito observed,

Although Tuscaloosa Clear Channel normally caters to a white, conservative audience, grateful listeners often make tearful calls from predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhoods like Alberta that bore the brunt of the tornado. No other radio or television stations in the community, public or private, have come close to matching this effort.

Scott Walter

Walter served in the George W. Bush administration as Special Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy and was vice president for publications and research at the Philanthropy Roundtable. There…
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