The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, July 07, 2000

What you can expect if wage law is repealed

By The Building Tradesman

What can the average unionized construction worker expect if the State of Michigan repeals its prevailing wage law?

A new study by Harvard and Stanford University researchers found that in nine states that repealed their prevailing wage law, wages for trade union workers "fell sharply" in the years researched, 1979 through 1988.

Researchers found that union construction members earned 20 percent more than their nonunion counterparts before prevailing wage repeal. But five years after repeal, the union income advantage dropped to about 10 percent over nonunion workers.

The nine states that repealed their prevailing wage law from 1979-1988 include: Alabama, 1980; Arizona, 1979; Colorado, 1985; Florida, 1979; Idaho, 1985; Kansas, 1987; Louisiana, 1988; New Hampshire, 1985, and Utah, 1981.

Construction workers' wages fell 17.5 percent over most of the 1980s in those nine states. Remarkably, in states like Michigan where a prevailing wage law remained in place during that period, construction wages still dropped 12.9 percent.

The trend of lagging construction worker wages is only starting to turn around. According to the Bureau of National Affairs, U.S. construction wage increases in the first 22 weeks of 2000 were 3.7 percent, compared to 2.6 percent in all of 1999.

There is strong possibility that if Democrats win back a majority in the State House of Representatives in the November election, state Republicans will attempt to push through legislation in the lame-duck session after the election that would repeal Michigan's Prevailing Wage Act.