A flawed Boston Globe opinion piece by former Governor Mitt Romney staffer Charles Chieppo unsuccessfully tried to compare unions in Massachusetts to the “one percent” and has been rebutted more than once a result.
Chieppo’s faulty logic went a little something like this:
During the recent campaign, Massachusetts Democrats denounced widening income inequality and the excessive influence Wall Street and other big business interests have over our politics. On the national level, it’s a persuasive argument.
But here in the Commonwealth, electing the candidates who made those arguments was like voting to maintain the Bush tax cuts. Because in Massachusetts politics, organized labor is the ultimate 1 Percenter and the rest of us are Occupiers.
According to the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance, 17 of the 20 political action committees that contributed the most to Massachusetts candidates during the 2009 to 2010 campaign season (the last for which data are available) were labor organizations.
Seems reasonable on the surface, like any well-worded SlanderBomb might, but two of its major flaws were subsequently highlighted in the days following its publication. First, Chieppo unfairly and inaccurately paints labor with a broad brush in rehashing outdated, debunked talking points concerning Project Labor Agreements. Second, he mischaracterizes the state’s rules regarding misclassification.
In his attempt to distort the truth about PLA’s, Chieppo refers to studies done by Suffolk University’s Beacon Hill Institute, a partisan research arm of the Republican party which describes itself as “grounded in the principles of limited government, fiscal responsibility and free markets.” Ahhh, the sweet sound of non-bias.
According to Chieppo,
A study of school construction by Suffolk University’s Beacon Hill Institute found that PLAs increased construction expenses by at least 12 percent. The premium is due to fewer bidders and onerous union work rules, not any differential in how much workers are paid. All public construction is subject to state and federal prevailing wage laws.
Taxpayers understand that union-only construction needlessly increases costs and they’re in no mood to pay the premium. In a 2010 Suffolk University/7 News poll, 69 percent of state residents opposed compelling contractors to hire all their workers through unions.
Thus, on December 16th, Mary Vogel, Executive Director of The Construction Institute, was forced to point out the low quality of Chieppo’s statistics in her piece “Much Value in Project Labor Agreements”:
Researchers have rebutted the Beacon Hill Institute’s claim that project labor agreements raise costs. Indeed, these agreements have been shown to be an effective way to manage and maintain time schedules and budgets, particularly for large, complex construction projects that involve a multitude of contractors and workers with specialized skills. In effect, these agreements safeguard an owner’s investment of time and money.
That’s why they have been used on billions of dollars worth of construction projects, both public and private, since World War I. Some of the most respected private and public entities in Massachusetts, including Bristol-Myers Squibb, Harvard, Massachusetts General Hospital, Fidelity, Baystate Medical Center, the College of the Holy Cross, Logan Airport, and the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, to name a few, have implemented project labor agreements.
Moreover, while Chieppo claims that a majority of Massachusetts construction workers are nonunion, a 2010 Cornell University study showed that unions represent more than 60 percent of the Massachusetts construction workforce. Unions also train the vast majority of construction apprentices.
In his original piece, Chieppo claims that changes in independent contractor classification, which he not-so-subtly insinuates are the result of labor’s influence over Gov. Deval Patrick, has become a hindrance to his wife’s gardening business. But Suffolk University (yes, the same school!) Law Professor Marc Greenbaum points out that this aspect of Chieppo’s argument is based in false information as well:
Finding flaws in Charles Chieppo’s argument in his Dec. 9 op-ed, The 1 percenters in Mass? The Unions, is easy. Among the most outrageous is Chieppo’s suggestion that the Commonwealth’s independent-contractor statute interfered with his wife’s desire to afford her workers a flexible schedule. This is simply not true. The statute is concerned with the duties an individual performs and the circumstances under which they are performed. An employee can work a flexible schedule. Chieppo’s statement that her workers would be independent contractors in any other state lacks support, and ignores the application of the criteria developed under the Internal Revenue Code.
Finally, Chieppo ignores the fact that business entities often classify individuals as independent contractors to avoid payroll taxes and benefit costs while insulating the businesses from exposure under the laws protecting employees, such as the antidiscrimination law.
Chieppo is not only wrong on this count, it’s only getting worse for his law-hating kind since Massachusetts is ramping up its already aggressive employee misclassification oversight. This “opinion” piece represents a recurring lack of clarity and vision on the part of the Boston Globe editorial staff who we’ve taken great issue with in the past, especially on the topic of PLAs.