Last week, an organization funded by the Associated Builders and Contractors delivered signatures to the Secretary of State for a possible ballot initiative that would repeal prevailing wage. Simply put, prevailing wage is a minimum wage for skilled tradesmen and women building public construction projects.
Because of this potential ballot initiative and the severe shortage of skilled trades workers right now we are likely to hear a lot about prevailing wage in the next few months. While politics makes everything more complicated than it has to be, the issues surrounding prevailing wage are pretty simple.
Repealing prevailing wage doesn’t save taxpayer dollars. Michigan repealed prevailing wage in the ’90s. We didn’t save taxpayer dollars. Wisconsin and Indiana both repealed prevailing wage in the last couple years. They haven’t saved any taxpayer dollars. Time and time again, the end result is the same: Repealing prevailing wage doesn’t save taxpayer dollars, and it won’t if we try it again.
The reason for this is simple. Lowering wages leads to lower-skilled workers and more mistakes. And mistakes in construction are really expensive — and in some cases, dangerous. Mistakes lead to delays and delays are really expensive, too. Qualified professionals in construction do it right the first time. We trained for four-year apprenticeships. We have hands-on experience. And we have the proper certifications to ensure that we deliver on time and on budget. This isn’t IKEA furniture. These are the bridges we drive on and the schools our kids attend. We need them to be built right.
Repealing prevailing wage also creates severe skilled worker shortages. When you don’t pay skilled workers enough money to live on, they move away in search of better jobs. Ten years ago, we paid teachers well and we had enough of them. Then, we cut their wages and now, we have a teacher shortage.
The same is true in our industry. Michigan already has a severe skilled worker shortage. If we repeal prevailing wage, we will make the skilled worker shortage a skilled worker crisis. This is exactly what happened when we repealed prevailing wage in the ’90s. It will be even worse this time.
Why would anyone want to repeal prevailing wage? That answer is simple, too. Some companies don’t want to pay people what they are worth and want to sidestep taxes by paying workers under the table. And it’s easier to do that if you get rid of pesky laws like prevailing wage. Then organizations like the Associated Builders and Contractors don’t have to compete with companies that pay their taxes, pay people for their work and play by the rules.
Mike Jackson is executive secretary-treasurer of the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights.