I recently wrote a two-part blog series about new Saint Louis County regulations that would prevent most non-union contractors from bidding on county construction projects. The County Council redefined what a “responsible bidder” is for county construction projects, adding provisions (1) that were purpose-built to get union contractors special treatment, and (2), which had nothing to do with the “responsibility” of contractors who would bid on the projects. At the time, I criticized the move as one that subverted the public interest of getting the best deal for construction projects for taxpayers, and instead changed the law to benefit a narrow private interest.
How narrow of a private interest? Last Wednesday, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released new data showing that of all construction labor, only 13.2 percent is unionized, a drop from 14 percent last year, and a near-record low. Put another way, Saint Louis County rewrote its “responsible bidder” definitions to protect the one-eighth of the national construction industry that is unionized, leaving the vast super-majority of labor —which is non-union — basically in the lurch for county contracts. As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Dave Nicklaus reported, union rolls in the state dropped by 51,000 members over the last year, putting overall Missouri union enrollment at “8.9 percent [of the workforce], down from 10.9 percent in 2011.” That fits the national trend lines.
Saint Louis County is trying to direct more money to fewer people, and the special interest nature of the change in the law is accentuated by last week’s construction employment data. Saint Louis County officials should reconsider their decision.