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June 2015

The Front Line: Politics & Jobs
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With Wis. Prevailing Wage under Attack,
New Report Cites Law's Benefits

Anyone watching the political landscape in Wisconsin knows how easy it is to see the ill effects of Gov. Scott Walker's policies on working families.

Now some lawmakers, urged on by the American Legislative Exchange Council and other anti-worker groups, are putting the state's prevailing wage law in the crosshairs.

Republican state Rep. Rob Hutton introduced legislation on Feb. 17 to repeal the law that upholds fair compensation and benefits for the state's construction workforce. In an interview with The Cap Times, Hutton said the bill aligns with other anti-labor actions that have been embraced by the GOP during Walker's tenure.

"We just passed right-to-work — is it our time now to continue to tackle these major labor reforms? I think one camp says we've got the momentum moving, we've got the forces on our side, let's go ahead and get it done," Hutton said.

But in a new report analyzing the law's fiscal impact, University of Utah economics professor Peter Philips highlights the critical role prevailing wages play in job training, retaining a skilled workforce and more in the Badger State.

"In states with prevailing wage laws, workers are more productive both on public works and across the entire construction industry," Philips writes. "On average, Wisconsin's public works productivity advantage ranges between 25 percent to 75 percent higher than the 18 states that do not have prevailing wage regulations. Because of enhanced and more widespread apprenticeship training and a greater retention of experienced workers, this increased productivity on public works spills over into the overall construction industry."

Philips' research shows that the while nonunion groups like the Associated Builders & Contractors invest scant resources in apprenticeship and training, Wisconsin's union contractors provide 95 percent of the funding to hire, train and retain a skilled workforce.

"This difference in quality and quantity plays out in higher productivity on the union side of the Wisconsin construction industry, higher construction worker incomes, greater health insurance coverage and more secure retirements for Wisconsin construction workers," Philips writes.

State Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, a Democrat, said that lawmakers like Hutton are ignoring the opinions of hundreds of state businesses in the rush to scuttle the law.

"Repealing prevailing wage would be another huge hit against the middle class and small businesses in Wisconsin," Barca said. "Over the last decade, Wisconsin has been the worst state in the nation for the middle class. Wisconsin's road and bridge construction workers are some of the most productive in the nation — with low costs per mile and excellent training. The bottom line is that Wisconsin has a system that works, and Republicans want to dismantle it knowing that it will drive down wages."

The law is also being pushed by Americans for Prosperity, a group funded by billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch. AFP has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in secret cash — or so-called "dark money" — to endorse political candidates who support right-to-work laws, rolling back workplace protections and other policies that hurt middle-class families.

"Lawmakers need to continue working for the state in order to make Wisconsin a better place to do business, to attract more companies and create jobs," writes AFP deputy state director Annette Olson in an April 5 op-ed in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "Wisconsin needs to become a destination for the innovators, the game-changers and those who are willing to do things a little differently. Repealing Wisconsin's prevailing wage law would be the next great step."

Read Philips' report, "Wisconsin's Prevailing Wage Law: An Economic Impact Analysis," at


Anti-worker Wisconsin legislators are targeting the state's prevailing wage law.

Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user edward stojakovic.

New Union Election Rules Take Effect

New rules governing how workers petition and vote for union representation took effect April 14.

The National Labor Relations Board implemented changes that the agency says will streamline the election process and keep pace with advances in technology. Instead of waiting nearly a month — and usually longer — to vote, workers could cast ballots in as few as two weeks.

"Unions historically have been at the forefront of establishing things like the 40-hour work week, the weekend, child labor laws, fair benefits and decent wages," Obama said last month after vetoing a congressional measure passed by anti-worker lawmakers that would have scrapped the new rules.

Other new procedures allow organizers to electronically submit petitions, speeding up the filing time. Employers are also now required to provide the NLRB and the union with an alphabetized list of employees in the voting unit by job classification, shift and work site location within one week of the petition's filing and must post an election petition notice within two business days.

Several GOP lawmakers and business groups, including the Chamber of Commerce, called the NLRB's reforms "ambush election rules" that would hamper employers' abilities to stop organizing drives.

A 2009 study by labor expert and Cornell University professor Kate Bronfenbrenner shows that large numbers of employers fire union supporters and threaten to close work sites or cut wages and benefits during campaigns. Even workers who do win organizing drives face more opposition down the road, with more than half still lacking a contract in the first year after a campaign.

"One of the freedoms of folks here in the United States is that if they choose to join a union, they should be able to do so," Obama said in a recent New York Times article. Obama also plans to host an event at the White House this fall to explore ways of helping middle-income families who fared worse than the wealthy during and after the Great Recession, the paper reported.

Read a comprehensive list of the new NLRB rules at


New National Labor Relations Board rules could help accelerate union elections.

Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Wikimedia user Geraldshields11.

White House Calls for Greener Grid

President Obama's administration released a report April 21 that calls for billions in funding that will move the nation's aging energy infrastructure into the 21st century.

The advent of more solar, wind and other renewables — along with the nation's increased domestic oil and natural gas production — signals a sea change in how power is generated, transmitted, stored and consumed, the administration said in its report.

"The United States has the most advanced energy systems in the world, supplying the reliable, affordable and increasingly clean power and fuels that underpin every facet of our nation's economy," the White House said, according to an article in The Hill. "But our energy landscape is changing dramatically. Solar electricity generation has increased 20-fold since 2008, and electricity generation from wind energy has more than tripled. During that period, the United States has also become the world's leading producer of oil and natural gas combined."

To make these grid upgrades, lawmakers would need to approve as much as $3.5 billion over the next decade to replace natural gas lines and improve maintenance procedures. It would take another $4 billion to both modernize the electrical grid and improve its "resilience, reliability, safety and security," the administration said.

The administration said that it will look for ways to work with Congress on the plans outlined in the report, many of which were included in Obama's 2016 budget request, The Hill reported.

IBEW in the Mix

The IBEW has been at the forefront of some of the world's largest solar projects, including the 392-megawatt Ivanpah plants in California's Mojave Desert, built by San Bernardino Local 477 members. Further west, electricians from San Luis Obispo are building the 500-megawatt Topaz projects.

The Electrical Worker reported in March 2014 about a resurgence in transmission construction, with about a dozen billion-dollar projects on the horizon. International President Edwin D. Hill said that the construction boom is both an opportunity and a challenge for the IBEW.

"It's tempting to think these are the best of times: we have all the work we can handle and full employment in the outside branch, a claim that virtually no other trade can make," Hill said. "But that is not the whole picture. If we want to win the best part of this work, if we want to make sure we have the manpower to do it, we have to do more training and organizing than we've ever done before."

The union estimates that by 2024, more than 76,000 members of U.S. locals performing inside construction will be eligible to retire.

'A Balanced Approach'

At the same time, IBEW leaders have called for caution and a balanced approach when moving newer technologies into the nation's energy mix. As the Environmental Protection Agency tightens its regulations on carbon emissions, the agency said last winter that almost 50 coal plants would close, in addition to the 60 to 70 plants that will likely be shuttered due to recent regulations cutting mercury emissions.

Almost 50,000 jobs would be lost at those plants and nearly twice that number in surrounding communities. Together, the plants represent more than 40 percent of the nation's coal power capacity, around 125 gigawatts.

Moving Forward

The April 21 report is the first in what the energy department said will be a "quadrennial review," which the agency plans to produce every four years, The Hill reports.

"The United States' energy system is going through dramatic changes," said U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, The Washington Post reported. "This places a high premium on investing wisely in the energy infrastructure we need to move energy supplies to energy consumers."


The president is calling for upgrades to the nation's aging electrical grid.