Was interested by a story in the Sunday Inquirer taking a look at Philadelphia's next great skyscraper, the huge Comcast building going up just off Rittenhouse Square. Turns out that the designers would really like to make it a green-certified building, and the only thing between them and that seal of pride is a reduction in water usage. They'd like to install waterless urinals, a technology that I had never heard of, but which appears to be in use in many places already, and has been shown to be safe and durable as well as environmentally friendly. And what stands in the way? The local plumber's union opposes inclusion of these nonstandard urinals
. Insiders say that the primary obstacle is that the waterless devices take less time to install, meaning less labor and thus a smaller plumbing contract. Not discussed is that installation happens one time, up front, while the efficiency would be a benefit to the entire local area for years to come -- in fact, the city has been looking for ways to reduce the strain on its sewer system, and decisions like this could make a big difference.
Are union managers that short-sighted (and/or selfish)? I'm sympathetic when the conflict with building planners is over use of union versus nonunion labor; I support the protections that unionization offers to workers in risky and undervalued jobs (or any job where management has unfair power). But this reeks of pettiness and does nothing to garner public support for union concerns over more substantive future issues. I hope that the plumbers will look at the experience of other users of these devices, update the local code as needed, and reconsider their opposition. The environment needs every break it can get, and if recognition is what drives building owners to use more low-impact technologies, then I'd hate to see them deprived of those incentives.