Growing and strengthening west Michigan's middle class
Sean Egan (IBEW 275) is the chair of the Kent-Ionia Labor Council.
After successfully fighting off the attempts by the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) and some Republicans attempts to cut construction wages in Michigan, the Building Trades Unions and construction workers across the State are back at the forefront of protecting Michigan workers. Although studies, in Michigan and elsewhere, have already shown that eliminating prevailing wage does not lower costs, this ideological warfare begins again in 2017.
Prevailing wage protects local workers, owners, and users from unscrupulous contractors as well as out of area low-ball contractors. It also incentivizes workers to enter the industry. Construction is tough, highly skilled, and rewarding work that requires long apprenticeship programs and a high degree of commitment. In this industry, it is the workers that hold all the knowledge and skill to perform, and employers manage the deployment, scheduling, and support of these craft workers. They command high wages due to this skill. However, there are employers that attempt to short cut the training and skill required with low paid workers filling in. This leads to delays, errors, safety violations, and potentially dangerous buildings upon completion (think fire, collapses, etc.)
Prevailing wage was created due to out-of-state contractors undercutting local workers and employers with a transient crew of low-paid people. The goal was to establish a baseline to avoid this type of unfair competition. Competition in construction should be based on an employer’s ability to manage projects, train workers, and provide the best product, not simply on their ability to pay low wages.
As mentioned, studies conducted on this issue have shown that there is no real reduction in construction costs, so the goal must be to transfer the wages from the worker to the profits of the company. As we know, the concentration of wealth does not benefit our communities…but strong wages do. We also know that the good wages established in Michigan’s Prevailing Wage law support local workers, local communities, and give workers and incentive to join the industry.
Fortunately, Governor Snyder and many Republicans understand this already, but if we don’t speak up they may believe that we don’t care. So, keep your eyes open for updates on this legislation and you should consider writing or calling your legislator now and ask them to support local workers by voting NO, if the prevailing wage repeal comes up.