Slow Learner vs. ‘Never Learner’ in Bay State?

In Traditional Big Labor Stronghold, Union-Only PLA’s Under Fire

(Source: July 2010 NRTWC Newsletter)

If you want to make a Massachusetts taxpayer shudder, just say the words “Big Dig.”

Onetime "Big Dig" enthusiast Charlie Baker is touting his opposition to union-only PLA boondoggles as he campaigns for the Massachusetts governorship this year. Bay State voters may conclude: "Better late than never!" Credit: John Tlumacki/Boston Globe

For years now, the “Big Dig,” officially referred to as the Central/Artery Tunnel Project, has been widely recognized as a poorly constructed, extraordinarily expensive boondoggle.

The “Big Dig” tunnel system was conceived in the 1970’s to replace Boston’s aging elevated six-lane Central Artery and improve access to Logan Airport and Boston Harbor. In 1987, Congress voted to furnish federal taxpayer funds, and ground was first broken in 1991.

To the dismay of independent construction employees and firms and Right to Work advocates, Massachusetts politicians announced that the “Big Dig” would be subject to a union-only “project labor agreement” (PLA).

Construction firm owners who wished to bid on the project, whether unionized or union-free, would be forced to impose restrictive union work rules on employees and to fill positions through discriminatory union hiring halls.

In 1991, project managers estimated the “Big Dig” would cost $2.6 billion and take seven years to complete. Thirteen years and nearly $15 billion after ground had been broken, the tunnel system was open, but still not complete.

Then, in November 2004, Boston media outlets reported that the “Big Dig” had experienced 1400 leaks in its tunnel wall as well as a wide array of other costly-to-repair damage.

New Taxpayer-Funded PLA Example of What ‘Makes People Crazy About State Government’

The “Big Dig” finally concluded at the end of 2007. It ended up costing $22 billion, including $7 billion in interest, which won’t be paid off until 2038.

In Massachusetts today, public anger about construction defects, missed deadlines, and enormous cost overruns in the “Big Dig” PLA remains intense enough that it represents a significant problem for 2010 GOP gubernatorial nominee Charlie Baker.

During the 1990’s, when Mr. Baker was Massachusetts’ chief budget writer, he supported borrowing an additional $1.5 billion for the “Big Dig.” Bay State taxpayers, who are still paying off that debt, don’t see that as a point in his favor!

However, Charlie Baker is singing a different tune about union-only PLA’s nowadays. In a campaign event last month, he blasted a June 14 decision by University of Massachusetts officials to foist a PLA on $750 million (at least) in new taxpayer-funded construction at UMass’s Boston campus.

Flagrantly discriminating against the roughly 80% of Massachusetts construction workers who aren’t unionized while accepting bids for publicly funded construction is the kind of thing “that makes people crazy about state government,” said Mr. Baker.

He pledges to ban PLA’s in state contracts if elected.

Gov. Patrick: ‘96% of the Construction’ Is Being Done ‘by Union Workers’

National Right to Work Committee President Mark Mix commented: “Charlie Baker is surely a slow learner when it comes to the ill effects of union-only PLA’s. It took him an awfully long time to realize they’re unfair and anti-taxpayer.

“On the other hand, Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick, now seeking reelection, appears to be a ‘never learner’ when it comes to PLA’s.

“Despite the ‘Big Dig’ fiasco and the many other examples of huge delays and excessive costs in Massachusetts PLA’s over the past two decades, Mr. Patrick continues to be a cheerleader for these special-interest schemes.

“This March, Mr. Patrick actually boasted about the fact that, even though the vast majority of Bay State construction workers have opted against unionization, ‘96% of the construction’ on a hospital PLA in Worcester ‘is being carried out by union workers’!

“Because of Mr. Patrick’s cluelessness, and because independent gubernatorial candidate Tim Cahill is dodging the PLA issue, Mr. Baker’s current outspoken stance against PLA’s may well resonate with Bay State voters, despite his past.

“Mr. Baker is savvy enough to see, finally, that public opposition to PLA’s is intense, even in a traditional union stronghold state like Massachusetts.

“And that should give pause to President Barack Obama, who up to now has been relentlessly promoting union-only PLA’s at the federal level, and will have to campaign in all 50 states if he chooses to seek reelection in 2012.”