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Lawmakers looking at labor union restrictions

Lawmakers looking at labor union restrictions

Idaho Freedom Foundation staff
March 1, 2010
Idaho Freedom Foundation staff
Author Image
March 1, 2010

Idaho lawmakers will consider a proposal to limit labor unions’ spending on construction contracts. Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, says current union actions supplementing some union workers’ paychecks hurts Idaho workers and non-union contractors. Officials with one union say the practice is legal and could lead to a court battle.

The Senate State Affairs Committee approved introducing legislation from Pearce that would prevent unions from paying workers or contractors additional wages beyond what they receive in a contract. Pearce said unions sometimes low-ball bids on contracts, and then pay union members a high wage from union funds. “This is a critical piece of legislation for us here in the state of Idaho,” Pearce said. “We need jobs and we need fewer regulations so that our businesses can thrive.” He said unions used $12.8 million in dues and other money last year for such supplemental payments. If his legislation passes, unions would face fines starting at $10,000 and escalating to $100,000 for each offense

Officials with the Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters (PNRCC), a construction union, said the practice, called market recovery, is a legal activity. “Virtually every building trades union there is has some kind of fund like this,” said PNRCC spokesman Eric Franklin. “These programs have been challenged many times legally, with no success.” The PNRCC represents Idaho and four of its neighboring states, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana.

PNRCC Political Director John Littel said using market recovery funds help level the playing field while trying to increase wages and benefits for all union and non-union construction workers. “We’re trying to raise the standards,” he said. He called Idaho a difficult environment for union construction workers because of historical and political factors, including the lack of state prevailing wage standards and right-to-work laws that limit union organizing. He added that unions don’t use additional funds to supplement every contract they get. “It’s a tool that we’re pretty careful about because it’s expensive to use.”

Pearce said the proposal would end uncompetitive practices and help contractors, since union funds couldn’t lower the price of building contracts, and workers, since the bulk of Idahoans aren’t part of a union. “We are a right-to-work state,” he said. “The unions have come in and developed means to evade and go around the principles of right-to-work.” Pearce also said he objected to union practices of picketing and demonstrating against non-union contractors and companies that don’t hire union workers. “They’re playing with muscle and threats,” he said.

The proposed legislation banning the use of market recovery funds, called the Fairness in Contracting Act, should receive a hearing in the Senate State Affairs Committee Friday.  The text of the legislation is available here.

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