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  • admin
  • 24 August 2014

August 27, 2014

Detroit Free Press letters: Michigan can’t afford to repeal prevailing wage law

The following letters were printed in the Detroit Free Press Aug. 27.

Last month, in a guest column, Alfredo Ortiz of the Job Creators Network advocated for repealing Michigan’s prevailing wage law, which drew both criticism and support:

Our company believes in paying our employees prevailing wages because it is crucial to fair competition, the success of Michigan’s construction industry and the strength of our economy.

Michigan’s economy is slowly recovering. Businesses, schools, communities and other entities are building again. One way to ensure that the best workers build these projects is by upholding Michigan’s prevailing wage laws. These laws attract skilled, safe and productive professional construction workers who ensure projects are done on budget, saving costs for businesses and taxpayers.

Calls by some parties to end prevailing wages are shortsighted. Without prevailing wages, we risk inviting low-bid, fly-by-night companies that hire unskilled, undocumented workers to build our schools, our hospitals and other facilities. Prevailing wages ensure greater safety and skill on construction sites. They also ensure tax dollars are used to create jobs for Michigan workers, not given to contractors who hire untrained, out-of-state workers in an effort to underbid established businesses. This levels the playing field so that Michigan companies that play by the rules, hire skilled workers and who are already paying their employees wages at or near the prevailing wage don’t get unfairly punished and cut out.

Workers paid prevailing wages also get health care and other benefits, so they are less dependent on taxpayer-funded programs.

Construction industry prevailing wage laws are a check against a dangerous tendency in the construction industry: Cutting corners, low bids and other unscrupulous practices that degenerate into destructive wage and price competition. These practices can drive skilled, experienced workers from the industry. They also reduce productivity and quality.

When Michigan suspended its prevailing wage law in the 1990s, school construction costs showed no difference before or after, according to a study by the University of Utah. Independent, peer-reviewed studies show prevailing wages may even help reduce long-term costs. Data from the Federal Highway Administration show states that pay higher wages saw lower overall costs than states that pay low wages. Labor hours to complete a mile of highway are 32% lower in high wage states despite a 69% higher wage rate, and states that paid higher wages saw savings of more than $30,000 per mile to taxpayers, according to the Construction Labor Research Council.

Repealing prevailing wage laws will create problems for Michigan. Workers are less experienced and injury rates will go up. Because it’s of poorer quality, the end product will require repairs that only add costs. That’s something Michigan cannot afford now, or in the future.

Amy Susalla

President, Detroit A&J Construction

War on prevailing wage is a war on workers

Last month, Free Press readers were offered up misleading comments from a national interest group whose motive is single-minded: accelerate Michigan’s workers race to the bottom.

We’ve seen scores of attacks on the Prevailing Wage Act of 1965 — one of our industry’s few remaining worker-investment laws. This act was the creation of a bipartisan Legislature and signed by Gov. George Romney, a Republican. The Prevailing Wage Act has endured through Democratic and Republican administrations since its creation because it directly benefits local economies and local workers.

Alfredo Ortiz and his so-called Job Creators Network seem to want nothing more than the suppression of workers’ wages and benefits to beef up corporate profits. It appears Ortiz and his allies can’t comprehend the notion that when Michigan construction workers earn a decent wage, they, in turn, can afford to be consumers in the local economy in which they live.

Another benefit of the Prevailing Wage Act, and collective bargaining in general, is union members are able to privately finance apprentice and journeyman training programs in concert with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Apprenticeship and Michigan’s Bureau of Apprenticeship & Training.

Any attempt to repeal the Prevailing Wage Law is an assault on Michigan workers, businesses and communities.

Douglas W. Stockwell

Operating Engineers, Michigan