Red Flags

Massachusetts labor bosses are used to getting their way, especially from Gov. Deval Patrick. But labor activists are throwing up the red flag at Patrick’s proposed idea to use civilian flaggers on highway work projects instead of state troopers. Massachusetts is the only state in the nation that uses police officers instead of civilian flaggers at nearly all road and utility construction sites, giving union officers a way to make overtime pay. In fact, nearly five percent of the state highway construction budget went to pay state troopers.

Patrick’s draft regulations, which could go into effect as soon as October, would encourage the state to use less expensive civilian flaggers or electronic signs on roads with a 45 mph speed limit or less, and the AFL-CIO isn’t happy about it.

AFL-CIO spokesman Tim Sullivan, who blasted the plan as unsafe and questioned the cost savings, said the union would fight the regulations. “Who’s going to pay for these flagmen to be trained, who’s going to pick up their unemployment insurance? We just don’t think the cost savings are there,” Sullivan said.

This, of course, raises a more important issue in the eyes of David Tuerck of the Beacon Hill Institute. Under Massachusetts Prevailing Wage Law, the state pays about $40 an hour to police officers who do flag work. Union activists note that the law would require civilians to be paid the same amount — thus create no savings to the taxpayers.

Tuerck correctly argues, “By making this argument, the unions have done us a service. If a law compels the state to spend the equivalent of $80,000 a year for someone to flag down oncoming traffic, then it’s time to rethink the law.”