Swift: In defense of prevailing wages in Michigan

Karla Swift

This new year should be a new opportunity for our elected leaders to work together for Michigan families, but some politicians have made a dangerous plan to lower wages in our state their top priority. The scheme by Senate and House leadership to eliminate the state’s prevailing wage laws would roll back important safeguards for working people and the community.

Prevailing wage protections help workers bring home a decent living and ensure contractors are able to find the skilled workers needed to build schools, roads and bridges. Studies have consistently shown prevailing wage laws help ensure better safety and higher productivity, leading to lower construction costs in less time. Gov. Rick Snyder has added his voice to the chorus of responsible contractors and elected officials of both parties who support prevailing wage protections.

With that in mind and so much work to do in Lansing, why would House and Senate leaders make repealing prevailing wage laws their top priority? Like many of the attempts to reduce wages in Michigan, it is a priority of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, the most vocal opponent of prevailing wage laws, has known ties to the organization.

At posh ALEC junkets, state politicians hobnob with corporate lobbyists who write legislation that benefits them at the expense of working people. Ending prevailing wage protections may be popular with some out-of-state corporate lobbyists, but it is the wrong direction for Michigan.

The labor movement is committed to creating both skilled workers and good jobs. Unions are second only to the U.S. military in job training programs across the country. Here in Michigan, we’re proud of the state-of-the-art training centers that open up the middle class for so many. Protecting prevailing wage laws will help ensure the future of our excellent training programs and those good jobs, but there’s much more to do.

I applaud Snyder for rejecting these dangerous and unnecessary attacks on the prevailing wage and hope to see more action that will increase access to good jobs. I was also heartened to hear about some steps in the right direction from President Barack Obama in Tuesday night’s State of the Union address. His plan to ensure every student can afford to attend a quality community college would open up access to good jobs with a future for millions of Americans. Hardworking families throughout Michigan would benefit from this needed investment in higher education which would allow more of our young people to learn the skills needed for tomorrow’s jobs.

Public education should be free and accessible so that no student needs to borrow against his or her future, or fall prey to unscrupulous training programs and for-profit colleges. Our elected leaders need to take action to help raise wages and allow access to the American Dream of a middle-class life. Through a union apprenticeship or quality community college, Michiganians deserve an education that will prepare them for a successful career.

Looking ahead to the 2015 session, there are a few questions on my mind. Have Lansing politicians been listening to voices of reason on issues that matter to working people? Or will politicians look past the needs of their constituents and focus only on a wish list for those who have been shipping Michigan jobs overseas?

Karla Swift is Michigan state president of AFL-CIO.

Labor Voices

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Karla Swift and Michigan Education Association President Steven Cook.