Getting More Done

by Russ Roberts on February 9, 2006

in Work

This story really speaks for itself. Like my earlier post on ACORN, it’s hard to imagine that this isn’t a Saturday Night Live skit.  It’s actually from the Detroit News (HT: Rob Raffety).  The point isn’t the hypocrisy but the fundamental economic point that how much you do depends on what you have to pay to get it done:

Are unions crossing line with homeless pickets?

Stand-ins hired to make a ruckus outside nonunion sites lack rank-and-file benefits.

Lucia Graves / McClatchy Newspapers

— You’ve heard the panhandler’s common refrain, "Will work for food."

How about: "Will picket for food?"

Washington, Baltimore, Atlanta and elsewhere in the country, union
organizers are scouring shelters and recruiting homeless people to
staff their picket lines, paying just above minimum wage and failing to
provide health benefits.

The national carpenters’ union, which broke
from the AFL-CIO four years ago in a bitter dispute over organizing
strategies and other issues, is hiring homeless people to stage noisy
protests at nonunion construction sites.

"We’re giving jobs to
people who didn’t have jobs, people who in some cases couldn’t secure
work," said George Eisner, head of the union’s mid-Atlantic regional
council in Baltimore.

Ain’t it the truth?  The story continues by invoking the economic concept of opportunity cost—the true cost of something is what you give up by doing it:

The carpenters who belong to his union, Eisner
explained, are gainfully employed. With homes and offices being built
or renovated and real estate booming in many urban areas, he said, the
union carpenters are too busy to join the picket lines.

"Work is good, and our members are working," Eisner said. "This is just the best thing for us to do at this point.

I couldn’t make up the ending of the story:

The union organizers allow the hired protesters to take two-minute breaks, Howards said, but dock their pay for the time off.

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Andrew February 9, 2006 at 1:30 pm

If you click on the poll, 70% of the respondents don't seem to have a problem with this either.

Tom February 9, 2006 at 2:16 pm

These jokers are picketing where I work right now. We have only one portion of a major renovation that is nonunion. Once the picketing started, we put the work out for rebid to seven or eight union companies. None responded, yet they still picket us.

dagny February 9, 2006 at 2:49 pm

There was a story a while back about a union (the UFCW I think) protesting the construction of a Wal-Mart, and they similarly hired protesters at minimum wage, no benefits, no breaks, etc. Most of them ended up applying for better-paying jobs at the Wal-Mart store.

the Radical February 9, 2006 at 4:40 pm

If they paid the homeless picketers more than minimum wage they could no longer afford to overpay their members and line the pockets of "pro-labor" politicians.

It appears that unions don't always ignore good economic sense!

Sandy February 9, 2006 at 8:42 pm

The worst I've ever been treated in my working life (and this includes stints at grocery stores in the deep South) was working as a temp and being assigned to a DC labor union. I was one of the temp company's better employees, so they put me on that project since the union was one of its better clients. Why? Because the generous benefits meant they usually had an absentee rate of around 1/4 to 1/3. So worked the same (or longer) hours than the permanent employees with a fraction of the pay and no benefits and no guarantee of employment, forced to ask to use the bathroom and excoriated if I didn't do things as fast as the full-time secretary who had been doing the same job for decades.

The kicker was listening to them discuss how to hide some of the new union president's compensation from the press.

DJB February 9, 2006 at 8:58 pm

One wonders if the unions will learn an economic lesson when all the homeless unionize and the unions can no longer afford to pay them.

John Pertz February 9, 2006 at 9:44 pm

I was wondering if anyone can see the obvious similarities between unionism and fascism. In fact unionism in itself can not be achieved without some degree of fascism because afterall unionism is impossible without the socioeconomic controls coming from a centralized authority. I was wondering what the union line is on the idea of liberty. Are you only worthy of liberty, free will, and human rights if you are an aherent to the desired will of the union? Can freedom only be realized through the union? Maybe the union is freedom, I guess I need more time to ponder how unions make us all better off. I wish the United States had more unions because that would make our society as a whole much wealthier. I should probably quit rambling now and go away.

Kevin February 10, 2006 at 12:40 am

**** Because the generous benefits meant they usually had an absentee rate of around 1/4 to 1/3. ****

Related anecdote maybe some will appreciate. Last year I toured the BMW MINI plant in Oxford, Enlgand, where all the little buggers are made. The tour guide — a crusty former foreman — explained that new workers are hired as temps; at the end of a probationary period, if good, they are hired as employees.

He then showed as an absentee chart set up on the factory floor. You could follow it over time and clearly see that temps who all had excellent attendence, suddenly most of 'em became chronically sick starting their first week as full employees!

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