Michigan is experiencing a skilled-worker crisis. Our state’s construction industry is booming and contractors are struggling to find the workers needed to participate on public projects. From a business perspective, the prevailing wage is a proven tool to retain qualified workers on Michigan’s public projects and entice new recruits into the trades (Re: The Detroit News’ editorial, “Let’s move past prevailing wage,” Dec. 14).
Contractors know Michigan’s prevailing wage laws help stabilize the labor market on publicly funded projects so we can find the workers needed to finish projects and make the best use of taxpayer dollars. I want Michiganders and policymakers to understand there could not be a worse time to repeal Michigan’s prevailing wage law.
I was there when we suspended the prevailing wage laws in the ’90s, and I saw how it devastated our skilled workforce for publicly funded projects. Facing reduced hourly rates, our workforce became transient. Decades of loyalty was supplanted by a revolving workforce forced to focus on finding the best pay. The best workers were lured away by increases in hourly wages, making it harder to complete the schools our children attend, the roads we drive on and other infrastructure projects on time or on-budget.
Repealing Michigan’s prevailing wage laws did not save money or benefit public clients 20 years ago and it will not help them now. Today, we are experiencing the same market trends. All contractors, including Barton Malow, have turned down work due to a lack of available workers. With billions more in publicly-funded jobs coming online this spring, Michigan can’t afford to gamble like we did in the ‘90s with our skilled workforce.
Those pushing the anti-prevailing wage effort continue to claim the prevailing wage inflates construction costs, but the math isn’t that simple. Because the prevailing wage keeps quality workers on our job sites, it actually helps to rein in costs for publicly funded work.
Here’s how that works: Most cost analyses only look at the initial cost of publicly bid projects, but when you examine the final project costs it becomes clear that reducing workers’ hourly rates, and the transient workforce that inevitably follows, generates a dog pile of costs. The prevailing wage helps our state build the skilled workforce needed to continue Michigan’s economic comeback.
vice president, Barton Malow