Labor Voices: GOP errs with prevailing wage repeal

Ron Bieber

In a single vote, Michigan Republicans robbed our communities of well-paid, safe jobs and quality public construction projects

In a single vote last week, Michigan Republicans in the state Legislature depreciated the value and quality of public constructions projects, lowered wages for hard-working Michiganders, removed important safety and training standards, and weakened our communities by undercutting working people. Indeed, the hurried vote to repeal the prevailing wage in Michigan was a vote to make us less safe, less paid and less employed on local projects. Had these Republican politicians taken the time to truly evaluate the prevailing wage law, they would have found benefits that strengthened our communities and ensured local economic growth.

A large crane in the background where workers build supports at the site of bridge construction over I-94 expressway at Chene Street in Detroit on May 23, 2018.

Michigan’s prevailing wage law has been on the books since 1965 and it worked: it assured that schools, bridges, and other public works projects are constructed on time and on budget by using highly skilled, well-trained workers. Without the stable, regulated environment it provides, the market is left in a race to the bottom where hiring decisions are based on profit rather than people with little regard for worker safety or quality assurance.

Prevailing wage ensured the competitive bidding process does not undermine long-established community wage and benefit levels and living standards. By setting wage rates, the law allowed contractors to compete fairly and win bids based on merit, productivity and efficiency. That’s one of the reasons it was popular to workers, contractors, industry and communities alike and why without it communities will suffer from lost revenues and steady employment for local workforces.

Further, prevailing wage ensured qualified workers are utilized to construct and repair public infrastructure that results in safe roads, bridges and buildings for the public. A more-qualified and better-trained workforce results in fewer accidents, and reduces injuries and safety incidents on the job.  By voting for repeal, Michigan Republicans have opened the door to increased workplace injuries and deaths as contractors rush to hire untrained, unqualified workers in some of the most dangerous professions.

And as Lansing politicians pay lip service to investing in skilled trades, their vote to repeal prevailing wage guts local training opportunities that help to pipeline workers into good paying job opportunities in the skilled trades, particularly for historically underserved communities such as minorities, young people, women and military veterans.

Michigan’s prevailing wage law ensured local workers gained access to job and career training opportunities and the family-sustaining wage meant those same workers can and will spend more at local businesses and boost the local economy. Thanks to Republicans our communities won’t reap those economic benefits and will instead suffer the consequences of lower pay and disappearing job security.

Last week’s vote made one thing emphatically clear to working families across Michigan: Republican leadership is in the pockets of the wealthy and well-connected.

In the past four years, we've now seen Lansing Republicans preempt local communities from passing prevailing wage ordinances, funnel over $1.5 million into a fraudulent petition process, work a rigged system to have those petitions certified, and bypass the voice of the people by taking votes to please their campaign financiers. It has never been more clear the length that Republican leadership will go to stab hardworking people in the back by this vote to eliminate prevailing wage.

For years, the unchecked Republican control in Lansing has been disaster for our state, our members, and their families. Working people have an opportunity to hold these politicians accountable this November.

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 Paula Herbart.