MLive: Prevailing wage gets it done right the first time, for everyone
Nearly a decade after the Wall Street collapse that shook Michigan's economy to its core, we are finally on our way back. The unemployment rate is going down, but we still need to do more to improve stagnant wages here and across the country.
Despite our fragile recovery, special interests are now pushing to repeal long-standing prevailing wage laws at the federal and state level. If they are successful, the result will be a double punch in the gut for working families and our economy.
In the U.S. House of Representatives, members of Congress — including some in the Michigan delegation — are supporting an extreme bill to repeal the Davis-Bacon Act, which has required paying workers the local prevailing wage on federally funded or assisted construction projects since 1931.
At the state level, some Republicans in the Legislature have made repealing Michigan's 50-year-old prevailing wage law a top priority. The law requires union-scale wages for construction projects that use state taxpayer dollars. A plan to roll back the law has already passed the Michigan Senate.
These laws, at both levels, ensure that our skilled workers can earn a decent living while making our communities safer. Getting rid of them makes no sense.
Prevailing wage requirements help ensure contractors who want to work on government-backed projects employ skilled workers who are more productive and better qualified to do the job. It ensures that contractors do not use underhanded tactics to avoid paying taxes or workers' compensation. And for Michigan, the state law prevents dishonest contractors from being able to undercut our local contractors by bringing in lower-paid, out-of-state workers.
With the prevailing wage, we can better guarantee that construction sites around the state — our roads and bridges, our downtown developments and our schools — will be safe. Construction sites can be dangerous, but requiring workers who are safety-certified mitigates these hazards. This protects our children and residents from preventable accidents and safety violations.
Proponents of repeal argue that prevailing wage laws inflate the cost of government construction projects. The reality is that hiring underqualified workers instead of the best-trained workers to do it the right way is not a good long-term investment of taxpayer dollars. When we expect these large-scale projects to last decades or longer, quality matters. A project is always cheaper in the long run when it is done right, on time, the first time. Preventing cost overruns and reducing maintenance costs caused by cut-rate construction protects both the safety and pocketbooks of Michigan taxpayers.
Research has consistently shown that because trained construction workers perform more efficiently than untrained workers, a prevailing wage allows government projects to pay middle-class wages to skilled workers at no additional cost to taxpayers. Repealing laws that demand better wages for better work while keeping costs down would hurt Michigan's working families — and ultimately our economic recovery.
Across the state, Michigan continues to rebound. Downtown Detroit is being transformed on a daily basis, our auto sector is adding jobs and our tourism industry is thriving as the American economy improves. Enacting these dangerous, unnecessary attacks on prevailing wage laws could unravel this progress.
I work every day in the Senate to ensure that Michigan's economy continues to grow and create jobs, and that all working families are included in our recovery. Protecting our prevailing wage laws at the state and federal level is a vital way to include all workers in our continued recovery and success.
By: US Senator Gary Peters
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