In what might best be categorized as “kind of a big deal,” former Republican U.S. Senate candidate and real estate developer Terrence Wall wrote an op-ed in the Capitol Times arguing against a repeal of Wisconsin’s prevailing wage laws. Some Republicans in the Legislature have targeted prevailing wage laws for complete repeal, although it’s not certain whether the repeal will have enough support to gain any momentum.
Here’s a portion of Terrence Wall’s op-ed.
The point is that if the prevailing wage law were completely repealed, given that the low bidder typically wins the government job, I am certain that this would prove to be a disaster, resulting in deaths on the job, cost overruns, delays and the like, because smaller contractors would underbid the true cost of jobs (without knowing it), win as low bidder, and then find out on the job that they are totally unprepared for the size of the project.
Why do I say deaths? Because smaller contractors do not have the safety departments and internal inspectors that large contractors have. A large general contractor has to maintain safety systems that a smaller contractor does not, which saddles larger contractors with a higher cost basis than smaller contractors.
The larger general contractors are also typically union, and unions typically maintain regular training facilities that small contractors do not have. In Dane County, the unions have a full-scale training facility north of Madison that the union contractors pay for through their wages and fees, again presenting them with higher costs.
In order to win bids without prevailing wage, the large contractors would have to strip out all the training, safety and other value-added components of their overhead in order to complete, and that is why repealing the prevailing wage completely would be disastrous in the long run. Not only would safety and experience count for nothing, those attributes would actually prove to be a disadvantage when bidding for a job, because they present higher overhead costs.
Then there is the overall effect on the wage scale in Wisconsin, which forms the basis for the middle class in the construction industry. Wisconsin has proven time and time again to have the most productive workers in the country, if not the world. Why do you think our state is the last holdout of our country’s manufacturing base? Increased productivity here more than makes up for the higher wages. It is a system that works.
I have traveled all over the world, and have seen the shoddy construction techniques of other nations. Not only do their construction jobs take much longer, but the safety is not there, both during construction and post-construction during occupancy. The quality is likewise lacking. Wisconsin construction laborers are, no doubt, the best in the world, and they deserve to be paid accordingly. Low wages = low quality construction.
Repealing prevailing wage would undermine the entire wage structure in this state. Do we really want to end up like a Third World country? Because that is what we would get — without a middle class, democracy cannot be sustained long-term.