When you drive across a bridge, send your child to a public school or enter a public building, you have faith that the structures won’t collapse. You want to know that skilled, well-trained workers have constructed them. Thanks to Missouri’s prevailing wage law, the odds are heavily in your favor.
Missouri is one of 29 states with a prevailing wage law that ensures fair wages for our laborers, carpenters, electricians, bricklayers, masons, boilermakers, steelworkers, and plumbers and pipefitters when they are working on public projects such as roads, bridges, schools and other public buildings. Having this standard helps make sure that Missourians get the most-qualified workers for these public projects.
Prevailing wage laws also protect local jobs by ensuring firms that bring in lower-cost, out-of-state labor do not outbid companies using a Missouri labor force. When West Virginia was debating its prevailing wage law, the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy concluded that prevailing wage laws help “ensure that government-funded construction projects are done with highly skilled workers from the community, increasing productivity and strengthening the economy with good-paying local jobs.”
Studies repeatedly show that in prevailing-wage states, construction jobs are completed more quickly and more safely and come in under budget more frequently.
Repealing Missouri’s prevailing wage law will have certain negative affects. According to a 2016 study, “The Adverse Economic Impact of the Repeal of the Prevailing Wage Law in Missouri” by Dr. Michael Kelsay of the University of Missouri, Kansas City, its repeal:
• Would produce a loss of income and revenue between $225.3 million and $360.7 million annually.
• Would not result in any cost savings in school construction costs as alleged by the opponents of prevailing wage.
The study also discovered that real compensation packages, health benefits and pensions are higher for workers in prevailing wage states than in non-prevailing wage states.
Furthermore, states that repeal prevailing wage laws, such as Kansas, find that skilled workers flee to find better jobs. With their loss comes a shortage of qualified workers.
Studies show that there is a positive effect for all residents in states with prevailing wage laws: Higher wages in public construction help raise other workers’ wages. In addition, well-paid workers are good consumers, boosting our economy. Furthermore, the prevailing wage changes the total cost of a job only slightly because the labor costs are on average only 20 to 25 percent of the total cost of construction.
So why would our state Legislature be intent on repealing the prevailing wage law in Missouri? Corporate influence is to blame because corporations believe that prevailing wage hurts their interests; the law’s repeal allows them to pay their skilled workers less. The Missouri House has already abandoned working people by passing HB104 to repeal the prevailing wage, and the Missouri Senate is now considering passing the bill for Gov. Eric Greitens to sign.
We must act to ensure that Missouri stands strong for its working people. Call your state senator and voice your support for our prevailing wage laws. (To find a list of your legislators, visit www.senate.mo.gov.) Let your state senator know that you respect our skilled workers and think they should be paid a decent wage for quality work.
Krista Stark is the executive director of Southwest Missouri Democrats.