Monday, September 26, 2005

SLU Labor Protest

Today union workers are protesting a contracting decision made here at SLU regarding the construction of the new science center. Here is the local radio piece about it. A sub-contract to erect the steel frame of the building went to a Vermont based, non-union shop. Ironworkers Local 440 objects to this, saying the contract should have gone to a local, unionized company. They also point out that a lot of local ironworkers are Mohawk, and SLU has been trying to develop a good relationship with the Mohawk nation.

SLU counters that it is not involved in subcontracting decisions: after it picks the general contractor, it stays out of decision making, to prevent cronyism and corruption. SLU also emphasizes that about 65% of the work on the new science center is union, and the whole project does a lot for the local economy.

I think we have all seen how ugly crony capitalism can get with the botched response to Katrina, and ongoing corruption in the cleanup. I also hesitate to call Vermont "non-local." At both of my previous universities, the cleaning labor was handled by international firms that shipped labor from the former Soviet bloc. SLU is really quite labor friendly compared to the rest of the world.

Still, SLU could create a policy that mandates that a certain percentage of all subcontracts must go to union, local or Mohawk companies without risking conflict of interest. They could also adopt a policy of simply encouraging contractors to hire subcontractors that are union, local, etc. The Union has a legitimate complaint. But in the interest of avoiding cronyism, we should handle it at the policy level.

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