Bieber: Lawmakers must protect prevailing wage

Ron Bieber

There’s been a lot of talk in Lansing about fixing our roads over the past few years, but so far not a lot of real action. The roads are worse than ever, and virtually every plan that’s been discussed would stick regular, everyday working people with the bill.

To make matters worse, there’s a small group of extreme, anti-union contractors who are spending big money right now to repeal Michigan’s prevailing wage law.

It’s tough to think of a worse idea at a time when we’re trying to fix the roads, because prevailing wage ensures that construction work is done safely, on-time, and on-budget by well-trained workers. Prevailing wage also means that our taxpayer dollars go to hire Michigan residents, instead of hiring unskilled workers from other states.

And most importantly, prevailing wage ensures that construction workers are paid fair, middle class wages that can support a family.

Construction is a tough and dangerous job. People who work in construction get up before the crack of dawn, and sometimes drive for hours just to reach a job site. They endure extreme weather conditions — from the late spring flurries of March, to the blistering summer sun of July, and the driving wind and rain of October — just to make sure the job gets done, and that public safety is protected.

We also need to make sure we’re getting the best value for our tax dollars by hiring the best-trained, high-quality construction workers available who can get the job done right the first time.

Getting rid of prevailing wage will mean lower wages for Michigan workers, not to mention more wasteful spending on unscrupulous contractors who hire shoddy, out-of-state workers.

The simple fact is that there is no evidence of any cost savings by getting rid of prevailing wage. When Michigan’s prevailing wage laws were suspended in the 1990s, building projects didn’t see a difference in cost.

It’s pretty simple — repealing prevailing wage will hurt Michigan’s middle class. That’s why polls have shown that less than a third of the public think we should get rid of it.

This is an issue where business and labor, and even Republicans and Democrats have found common ground.

Barton Malow is the largest construction company based in Michigan. Earlier this spring, its Vice President Mike Stobak testified to the Michigan Legislature that “prevailing wage laws have provided a model which allows both union and non-union contractors the ability to participate on public projects while appropriately balancing cost, productivity, quality, and safety.”

The Michigan Association of School Boards and Michigan Association of School Administrators have both passed resolutions to oppose the elimination of prevailing wage policies.

And while we rarely agree with Gov. Rick Snyder, even he has come out against repealing prevailing wage because he knows it will hurt skilled trades jobs and Michigan’s future.

The bottom line is that prevailing wage works. It means the best value for taxpayers on public projects, and fair wages for well-trained construction workers, which helps build a strong middle class. To improve our economy, keep children and families safe, and ensure that taxpayer money is spent wisely, we must keep our prevailing wage laws.

Ron Bieber is president of the Michigan 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 Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Steven Cook.