Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Enemy: Unions and Big Government

Every week I drive on the Gowanus/Brooklyn Queens Expressway. Courageous, no? About 15 years ago the DOT began a much needed 10-year repair program on this busy road. They are five years past the completion date and nowhere near done. Why so long? After all, the Empire State Building took just over a year to build from scratch. The mammoth Hoover Dam project that required rerouting the freakin' Colorado River took just five years. In looking at the reasons why things take so much longer today (even though we have more advanced technology and engineering methods) than they did decades ago, I came up with a couple of ideas.

First of all there is the growth of labor unions. When unions first appeared on the American work scene, there were good reasons to support them. Pay was poor, benefits sparse, and safety regulations were practically unknown. Workers were right to fight for decent treatment from greedy, uncaring employers. Over time however, the pendulum began swinging in the other direction. Union demands became excessive and union leaders grew as corrupt as the management they were battling. Union workers forgot what an honest day's work was and kept upping the ante every time contract renewal time came around. The resulting productivity losses translated into ridiculously protracted job completion times.

Another factor, maybe the main one, is excessive government regulation. Unsafe work practices led to the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSHA). Environmental regulation came next. In Niagara, New York, a company named Hooker Chemical dumped their toxic waste into an abandoned canal. In time, they covered it over, selling the land to the town for one dollar. The town of Niagara built residential housing on the site, but people soon began contracting cancer as the chemicals leeched out of the soil into the air and water. This environmental atrocity became know as Love Canal, and led to the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency and legislation like the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) which gives EPA the authority to control hazardous waste generated by businesses from "cradle-to-grave."

Did big business bring this regulatory landslide down on their heads because of their insensitivity to the welfare of their employees and lack of respect for the land we will be passing on to our children? Of course they did. Did they deserve the landslide of crippling laws and regulations that created a sea of red tape and greatly increased the cost of doing business? I think not. Whenever bureaucrats develop a solution to a problem, it is never in proportion to the scope of the problem. They tend to use a steam shovel when a teaspoon is all that is required. Common sense rules to protect American workers and our environment are what we needed. That is not what we got.

When a government agency is created to solve a problem, it starts out with all good intentions. Soon however, it begins to lose focus, and the agency's objective shifts from solving the problem to preserving and growing itself. Bureaucrats multiply like rabbits, and soon these agencies are creating regulations not intended primarily to solve problems, but to create the need for more enforcement, more jobs, more political patronage and self-perpetuation. No thought is given to the burdens they are imposing on the businesses they regulate, who just pass the costs on to the rest of us. My son-in-law works in the field of environmental remediation, helping companies clean up contaminated sites before they can be built on. Companies like his sprang up just to help businesses cope with the tangle of federal, state and local regulations.

Honestly, most companies do not fully comply with safety and environmental regulations; they can't afford it. They do what the law absolutely requires, and hope they don't get caught taking a few shortcuts. The Tea Party phenomenon is gaining political ground in this country because people from all walks of life are getting tired of government spending and taxation. I think some of their tactics are a little crude, but I agree with their philosophy of less government. The liberal mantra of "tax the rich" is getting stale. Translated, it means take more and more money from people who worked hard for it and give it to failed government programs and to illegal immigrants or undeserving Americans who refuse to work.

And that's why the repairs to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway will not be completed in my lifetime.


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1 comment:

Joseph Del Broccolo said...

For years I've felt that unions are the cause of America's breakdown. The fact that we have people working jobs that are not productive, supported by the strength of unions, have caused the inferiority of the goods and services this once great country provided, and helped to build in outrageous costs to keep these so called"workers" on the job.

When a company can't compete, or even state agencies, the unions never give back, but still demand even more.

Get rid of the union, we don't need them anymore.