May 27, 2015

Selling out workers

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

Have you ever noticed that Republicans talk a lot about jobs, but they don’t really do much to back it up?

Governor Scott Walker called job creation his number one priority. He even pledged to create 250,000 jobs in his first term. He even trashed Governor Doyle’s Commerce Department and converted it into the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.

However, the jobs never came. In fact, under Walker’s watch, WEDC has been the subject of great criticism, including mismanagement and poor performance. In 2011, WEDC, chaired by Walker, approved a goal of creating 50,000 new jobs per year. Yet, according to WEDC’s own numbers, they can only account for creating 5,840 jobs in 2012 and 2013. It was just that kind of performance that led Republicans to fire Governor Walker from the WEDC board last week.

While Republicans talk a good game on job creation, their trickle down economic never seem to trickle down to the people who actually need the income. Take for example former US President Ronald Reagan statement that, “I believe the best social program is a job.”

What President Reagan neglected to add to his comment is that what we really need are more well-paying family supporting jobs. And that is more

  • Milwaukee UI rate

Wed. May 27 the Wisconsin State Assembly held a public hearing to discuss a recent republican led proposal to repeal the prevailing wage law. Although the GOP has the majority in all branches of the Wisconsin Legislature, the bill has led to a great deal of debate.

Enacted in the 1930s, these protective laws are intended to protect the local construction workers and contractors alike. Prior to the prevailing wage law, public works projects were to be assigned to the contractor claiming the lowest cost to the state.

Such a system resulted in an incentive to manipulate construction wages in the midst of local competition among contractors – that’s when prevailing wage stepped in. The legislation leveled the playing field for contractors, protecting local organizations from companies who offered minimal costs of construction by lowering wages.

Essentially, the legislation took bargaining power out of the hands of contractors, who often won job assignments at the expense of its workers; worker’s no longer had to worry about working for low wages simply to find work.

Is this depression era piece of legislation, revised only once during the 1990s, still necessary and effective? Such is the question politicians are currently debating. Both sides have been presented in session this Wednesday.

Those who support leaving the prevailing wage law as is, claim it has led to higher quality construction and more skilled workers, as well as equity within the industry. A fair wage leads to a skilled labor force, happy to work in the great state of Wisconsin. As a result, theoretically, public work is done better and more sustainably.

However, the cost efficiency of the prevailing wage law has become contested.

Workers are paid significantly higher wages for public projects than they would be otherwise. In fact, workers are often paid some 40 to 45 percent higher than the market price.

Those who advocate for repealing the prevailing wage law argue, while high wages and high quality work are an integral part of a successful economy, wasteful spending is not. Spending has become excessive and hurtful to local taxpayers, some say.

Furthermore, whether or not prevailing wages leads to a more skilled workforce is unclear.

NOTE: I was not able to find relevant data comparing prevailing wage and non-prevailing wage states