Michigan’s prevailing wage law, which has been in place since 1965, strengthens our infrastructure, saves our tax dollars, and ensures our highly-skilled tradespeople are paid a livable wage.
The law ensures that when our state builds roads, bridges and schools, we contract the highest skilled workers available. For good reason, when we contract the workers who lay the roads we all drive on and build the schools we send our children to, it is unconscionable to settle for subpar results. Further, national studies have repeatedly shown that prevailing wage laws save taxpayers money by ensuring that projects are done right and are built to last. Repealing prevailing wage will only leave our infrastructure in shambles while taxpayers foot the bill and special interests rake in extra profits.
Protecting the prevailing wage law is not just beneficial to skilled workers and all of us as taxpayers of this state, it benefits our local economy as well. A 2015 study by the Midwest Economic Policy Institute concluded that a repeal of the prevailing wage law would eliminate nearly 10,000 skilled trade jobs in Michigan.
This loss of jobs translates to an exodus of highly-skilled individuals from our economy in search of better opportunities. When workers plant their lives in our state, they spend money at our local businesses, they contribute to our schools, and they grow our communities.
As with any other profession, we will only attract highly-skilled carpenters, electricians, ironworkers, and other tradespeople to these jobs when we guarantee that they will be paid a fair and livable wage. When our state fails to make this guarantee, we open the door for low-skilled and cheap labor imported from out of state to undercut the hardworking people who have rooted their lives in our state and quite literally built our communities. Simply put, we get what we pay for. With the prevailing wage law we are paying for high-quality workmanship completed by Michigan men and women who have a vested interest in the improvement of our state.
Given the litany of negatives that comes along with a repeal of prevailing wage, where is this effort to repeal prevailing wage really coming from?
On this issue, as with many others, it is important to follow the money. The millions of dollars spent to collect signatures was done so by contractors that can’t compete by paying a fair wage. Thus it is unsurprising that these special interests have no qualms lying to our citizens to build support for a proposal that conveniently does nothing to limit their profits at taxpayer expense. Once again, they get more and working men and women get left paying the bill. It is a blatant attempt to rig the game and stuff their pockets with the tax dollars of the hardworking people of this state.
Instead of cutting wages for the workers of this state, we should be investing in programs designed to attract individuals to jobs in the skilled trades; programs such as the Skill Trades Training Fund, designed to prepare individuals for these careers. These important training opportunities become obsolete if we slash the wages of the workers that have quite literally built our state and pave the way for special interests to enlist cheap out-of-state labor.
To support prevailing wage is to reject the greed of special interests. It is to assert that we value the expertise and efforts of our hardworking men and women, and the contributions they have made to our state. I will continue to fight for the working families of Michigan, and I urge my colleagues in the Legislature to do the same.
Curtis Hertel Jr. (D–East Lansing) represents citizens of the 23rd District.
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