Anyone watching the political landscape in Wisconsin knows how easy it is to see the ill effects of Gov. Scott Walker’s policies toward 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 four-year 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 www.wisconsininfrastructure.com.
Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user edward stojakovic.