This year, special interests collected signatures to put the question of repealing Michigan’s long-standing prevailing wage law before the Legislature or on the ballot – often misconstruing the true intent of what their petition would do. They tell you it’s about saving you money. Nothing could be further from the truth. Let me tell you what prevailing wage is.
Michigan’s prevailing wage law ensures that our publicly financed buildings, roads, bridges and utilities are constructed using highly skilled and trained workers who are paid the regional average for their trade. The law doesn’t artificially inflate wages or the cost of construction and doesn’t force workers to be union members.
It just ensures that the people building our infrastructure earn a fair wage and benefits, and that their pay reflects their level of training. The law keeps skilled tradespeople and their families here in Michigan, where they spend money, grow the local economy and pay taxes.
Lowering wages reduces job productivity and lengthens the project schedule. Mistakes also happen when inexperienced, lesser-trained workers do the work. Michigan has already experimented with repealing prevailing wage in the mid-1990s. Costs went up and our skilled workforce went down. A study of highway and bridge work in 10 states found that high-wage workers built 74.4 more miles of roadbed and 32.8 more miles of bridges for $557 million less, compared to low-wage workers. Better and more efficient work for less money isn’t a difficult idea to get behind.
Unfortunately, the special interests that support this proposal are trying to build roads using the cheapest labor possible to maximize their own profits at the expense of Michigan taxpayers. It’s a simple idea: the worse roads they build, the more often they have to fix them, and therefore they make more money.
Without prevailing wage laws in place, contractors can import cheap labor from other states or countries. Do you want to drive on roads constructed by workers with little formal training? Do you want your children learning in a classroom not built by the best and most skilled workers? Repealing prevailing wage would jeopardize the safety of major projects, their workers, you, and your families.
It’s not just about cost, it’s about value. With prevailing wage we can have both better constructed roads and bridges, and at a lower cost. That is why I oppose repealing prevailing wage and I ask you to oppose it as well.
Rep. Henry Yanez, D-Sterling Heights, represents Michigan’s 25th House district.