Conservatives, including editorial writers at the Washington Examiner, are aghast that a resolution passed by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority issued a “project labor agreement” that contractors and subcontractors involved in the $3.5 billion Phase 2 of the Dulles rail project will have to meet union rules and working conditions, although the specifics aren’t clear. Opponents criticize former Democratic Gov. Timothy Kaine for giving up state authority for the project to the MWAA a few years ago.
Claiming that the labor agreement is a “slap in the face of all working Virginians” in the right-to-work state, as the Examiner put it, critics also claim that requiring unionized workers will add up to 20 percent more to the project’s costs. Since only about 4 percent of construction workers in the Old Dominion are unionized, many union workers from out of Virginia will be flocking to the project, they say.
The outcry is the latest in a wave of union-bashing that has swept the United States after the Republicans’ big win in the midterm elections. Public unions were singled out by conservative Republicans in Wisconsin’s brutal recent budget battle and in other states. The trickle-down is smearing all union workers.
A broader view is needed here. One reason Virginia is a right-to-work state is that years ago its business elite wanted to keep pay for manufacturing workers low so they’d have a better chance of stealing jobs from companies in states where unions are strong and wages and benefits are better. The history is an unsavory Southern one in which those in power beat down weaker folk for economic and political gain.
The fact is that unions bring on better wages and have forced companies and state legislatures to provide better benefits and safer working conditions. The choice for the MWAA is clear. Who do you want to follow? The antiquated ways and so-called “culture” of the failed Southern past or something a bit more modern? It’s time to move on from “Beggar Thy Neighbor.”
Peter Galuszka blogs at Bacon’s Rebellion. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.