COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | ERIC CHRISTEN

Union extortion: Not creative but very destructive

Gaylord Entertainment last week pulled out of a proposed $1 billion hotel and convention center project on the Chula Vista Bayfront. Gone are 7,000 construction jobs, 2,000 permanent jobs, 200 acres of open park space, trails, a signature park for Chula Vista, the restoration of fragile wetlands and millions of dollars a year in revenue for a city and a region that could certainly have used them all.

What happened?

For those who have been on vacation the past three years, it may all be a little cloudy to you. Was it the economy? While not an ideal time to build a resort, this one would have already been approved and under construction in a state with a sane regulatory environment -- besides, Gaylord is not planning on not building something out west, the company is just planning on building it in Mesa, Ariz. now. Was it the location or Chula Vista's leaders? Nope. The eyesore that is that strip of bayfront was perfect and ripe for a revitalization 35 years in the making, which will now have to wait years more to be developed. And while the elected officials in Chula Vista weren't perfect, they certainly weren't the ones who caused this deal to fail.

So what was it? As with so much that is wrong with San Diego and California these days, one needs to look no further than the union label.

When Gaylord temporarily walked away in July of 2007 it cited intransigence by organized labor in the form of union-only construction demands and litigation joined by a union-influenced environmental group. Agreeing to union demands would have caused delays and raised costs by $100 million or more, not to mention discriminating against the 90 percent of the construction industry that is merit shop (union-free.) Nothing has changed in the year and a half since.

Our region, with tourism as its No. 3 industry, lost this resort because in California an owner who wants to build anything -- especially when it's next to water -- must jump over regulatory hurdles designed by people who amount to modern day Luddites.

But what makes matters worse is the unholy alliance between the modern union movement and the modern "environmental" movement, who in turn use this regulatory process to achieve political ends. For reasons of power and politics these two regressive movements have seen fit to join forces, which in a case like Gaylord's, allows for projects to be held up until such time as an owner agrees to build and man the project with union-only labor. We refer to this extortion as "greenmail" and in this case we had a developer who wouldn't cow to union demands and agree to discriminate against non-union workers. Instead they went next door to Arizona where a decade, countless millions and sometimes having to offer up your second child aren't necessary for one to actually build something. We also understand that unions are few and far between there, something that I'm sure has nothing to do with Gaylord's decision.

So now that we understand why we lost a $1 billion project and thousands of jobs, the question is, what's next? Well don't look now, but this greenmail is occurring again today on another large San Diego project.

The Lane Field development is aimed at turning another regional eyesore into a mixed-use development that will again generate thousands of jobs and millions of dollars for the city and region by developing what is currently a downtown San Diego parking lot. Never one to pass up an opportunity to hold up jobs or progress, the Luddite coalition is back making sure that nothing gets built until the owners agree to, you guessed it, union-only jobs for both the construction and the hotel jobs that will come with the development.

In this case the unions and "environmentalists" are being aided and abetted by one of their political allies, that being San Diego City Councilman and California Coastal Commissioner Ben Hueso. It is in the latter role that Mr. Hueso, who represents the region on the commission, voted against the project just last week citing "concerns" about parking and traffic. His vote caused the project to fail to get approval at the Coastal Commission level because the vote ended at 5-5 tie. As the board president pointed out at the meeting, the only real "concern" Mr. Hueso had was the fact that unions weren't getting their demands met. What an outrage.

When the great Czech economist Joseph Schumpeter coined the term "creative destruction" in describing the rise of new businesses and jobs out of the ashes of companies who had failed and become irrelevant (think GM, Ford and Chrysler today or buggy whip makers of yesteryear) he understood that to get there, society had to transcend the looters/collectivists/statists of the day. Unfortunately for those living in California in 2008 these ruinous types have infected the body politic and are holding court. It is long past time those of us who trust free markets and free peoples more than government and coercion rid ourselves of them.


Christen is the executive director of Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction. Send comments to editor@sddt.com. Letters are forwarded to the author and may be published as Letters to the Editor.

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