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Wisconsin making prevailing wage history

The race to the bottom is moving fast in the GOP controlled Cheese State

Kris LaGrange's picture
Feb 21, 2017

Unions have taken a beating over the last few years in Wisconsin.  During the Scott Walker administration, Right to Work (for Less) has been passed in the face of massive protests. They followed that up by removing all prevailing wage requirements for local construction projects. Now the state is looking to defund all prevailing wage requirements within the state.

Prevailing wage laws require government projects to pay their workers a rate that is at or above the average rate for construction workers in the area.  This helps to prevent firms from coming in and underbidding everyone and causing a race to the bottom in terms of wages for local employees.  It also lets union contractors compete in the bidding process since their costs are usually higher due to livable wages, benefits and safety standards. The repeal that Walker is proposing to eliminate, would mean that no projects in the state could be subject to prevailing wage requirements.

While Walker is taking aim at the prevailing wage, the Wisconsin legislature which is GOP controlled, is going after project labor agreements (PLAs).  These agreements establish that construction sites use union labor. They establish rules such as labor peace, project deadlines, and allow the unions to determine pay and benefit rates before any work is awarded. The bill which has passed the House and Senate, in separate forms, would ban state and local governments from entering into these agreements. 

Like all of the other labor fights in the Cheese head state, American’s for Prosperity is behind these economically crippling initiatives. The Koch Brothers, owners of Georgia Pacific, lobbied for the bill and even testified at the hearing claiming that these agreements raise the cost of construction.  As UCOMM has previously reported, studies have shown that laws like prevailing wage do not increase the cost of construction. This year the Koch Brothers have been involved in a number of attempts to repeal Prevailing Wage.

Opposition to these bills is growing.  The Wisconsin AFL-CIO has once again fired up it’s membership base by urging them to contact their legislators.  The American Legion has even come out in opposition to Walker’s plans.  In an interview with KWOW, Commander Daniel Seehafer said that the proposal will adversely affect military veterans since construction is the second highest employment sector for Vets.  He called on Walker to stop trying to balance the budget on the backs of Veterans. Nice work Commander, he should mobilize his base as well.

Elected officials in Wisconsin once again are faced with the decision on whether to side with the Koch brothers or side with their constituents and those who elected them.  According to the Census Bureau  the household income in Wisconsin is about $800 less than the national average and has fallen since Walker first took office.

Brian Young contributed to this story.

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