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The Lack of Skilled Blue-Collar Labor

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Those who follow labor frequently hear companies complaining about the lack of blue-collar skilled labor. Why, Chevron needs all of these workers and they can’t get them! says the standard narrative. Why? Well, the answer of course is Chevron.

The two missing links are the role of the construction owner, like Chevron, in crushing the unions that provide skilled journeymen in the construction trades, and a clear discussion of the wage levels needed to attract skilled workers from parts of the country the recovery hasn’t reached. The story says wages are rising in Texas, but from what to what? Are wage levels high enough to persuade a journeyman electrician from Michigan or Los Angeles to relocate to Houston? Or are they unreasonably low, given the scarcity of skilled workers and the years of training required to produce a journeyman? How do union wages compare with non-union wages? The story never says.

Oil giants like Chevron can afford to have their construction contractors pay well for skilled work, but they resist. Organizations they fund, such as the Business Roundtable, have led a decades-long

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campaign to weaken or destroy the building trades unions that actually train the greatest number of skilled tradesmen. Chevron, Koch Industries, ExxonMobil and many other energy industry corporations fund the American Legislative Exchange Council and its legislative efforts to kill unions and eliminate labor standards. It’s hard to hear Chevron complain about a labor shortage when Chevron and other Fortune 500 companies themselves are a major cause. They don’t merely fight unionization, they also oppose the state and federal prevailing wage laws that protect construction wages from being driven lower and allow union apprenticeship programs to continue providing the best-trained workers.

I know for instance that the United Brotherhood of Carpenters has a huge training center in Las Vegas where they make sure that the next generation of UBC members have the needed skills for the modern workforce. But without the building trades training their own members, who is going to do that? The companies? Please. No one. If you want a trained, high-quality blue-collar workforce, you need unions. But ideology trumps economic rationality for corporations.

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