Surprise!: Labor Bosses, Not Workers, Win in Green New Deal

Posted by Olivia Grady on Tuesday, March 5th, 2019 at 1:08 pm - Permalink

On February 7, 2019, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY 14) released her Green New Deal outline. In it, she describes purported “crises” that Americans are experiencing from climate change, including life expectancy declining, greater systemic racial injustices, etc.

However, she also includes that “a 4-decade trend of economic stagnation, deindustrialization, and antilabor policies [] has led to”: stagnating hourly wages, limited socioeconomic mobility, reduced bargaining power of workers, and inadequate resources for government workers.

According to her, the United States also has “the greatest income inequality since the 1920s.” She repeats the common misunderstanding about the gender wage gap and that the top 1 percent are earning 91 percent of the gains since the end of the Great Recession.

Her solution: create “high-quality union jobs that pay prevailing wages, hire[] local workers, offer[] training and advancement opportunities, and guarantee[] wage and benefit parity for workers affected by the transition.”

Another solution is “strengthening and protecting the right of all workers to organize, unionize, and collectively bargain free of coercion, intimidation, and harassment.”

She also seeks the advice of labor unions to implement the Green New Deal.

The Green New Deal, however, does not reflect the current situation in the United States, nor does it help workers.

First, her description of the labor “crises” that America is experiencing is inaccurate. Contrary to popular belief, there is still great socioeconomic mobility in the United States. Over 50 percent of Americans will be in the top 10 percent of income-earners for at least one year according to research by Cornell University. However, a Human Progress article also notes that over 71 percent of the Americans in the Forbes 400 list lost their position between 1982 and 2014. Therefore, many Americans at the top today in either salary or wealth will not be at the top for long periods of time, while those of lower income or wealth currently will rise in the future.

Rep. Ocasio-Cortez in her outline also incorrectly believes that the gender wage gap is due to sexism. Rachel Greszler of the Heritage Foundation, however, explained the real reason for the gender wage gap in a recent article. She reported that the difference in wages between men and women is due to education differences, choice of occupation, and hours spent at work. Women also tend to forego higher pay for more flexible work schedules and more benefits.

Even if these problems existed though, the solutions advocated for in the Green New Deal would not solve them.

Union jobs that pay the prevailing wage would cost low-skilled jobs and hurt the workers Ocasio-Cortez claims to want to help. The Davis-Bacon Act of 1931, which requires contractors and subcontractors to pay the local “prevailing wage” on public works projects (over $2,000) for laborers and mechanics, has shown this. The Government Accountability Office in 1979 even released a report arguing for the repeal of this bill because the wage determinations were inaccurate and led to lost jobs.

The report explained that the method that the Department of Labor uses for calculating the prevailing wage is flawed, and the Government Accounting Office found errors in 70% of the forms in January 1999. In addition, a 2011 study by the Heritage Foundation concluded that the Act added almost $11 billion to the deficit in 2011 in unnecessary expenses. Suspending the Act, however, would add 155,000 more construction worker jobs because more infrastructure could be built from the savings.    

Another example is the minimum wage where Democrats say that they can raise the wages of lower income individuals with few or no job losses by forcing companies to only offer jobs with certain wages. In a new report, the Employment Policies Institute found this was not the case. The Congressional Budget Office, for example, has found that a $12 minimum wage would cost almost 800,000 jobs, and the Heritage Foundation reported that a $15 federal minimum wage would lead to 7 million fewer jobs.

Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s final answer is to strengthen and protect the ability of workers to unionize and collectively bargain. Workers continue to have the ability to unionize and collectively bargain. The 2018 Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court case and right-to-work laws have not stopped workers from unionizing. They have only stopped unions from forcing workers to join and support unions.

While these policies may sound good to some on paper, the Green New Deal would only help labor union bosses by giving them more power at the expense of American workers.