Republican Wins Across the Country Means the War on Workers and Wages Intensifies

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February 2015 - Despite the many legislative victories for working families in California the past few years, the war on workers around the country remains very much alive, and in fact is intensifying.

Here in California last November, voters re-elected Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, a true champion for the best interests of working families. He made that clear during his press conference on the state budget. When asked how to uplift middle class families, Governor Brown answered: “You talk about raising wages. Strengthening labor unions raises wages.” Californians also provided good pro-worker Democrats victories in all other statewide contests, and solid majorities in the Senate and Assembly.

But throughout the rest of the country, the opposite happened. Anti-worker Republicans gained governorships and increased their majorities in state Legislatures, often selling themselves to blue-collar workers as friends. And they wasted no time in preparing to punish working families in many of those states, introducing measures to slash workers’ paychecks by eliminating the prevailing wage. 

In California this past year, dozens of charter cities that had previously exempted themselves from the prevailing wage, hurried to reinstate it, seeking to keep state funding for their construction projects in response to State Building Trades sponsored legislation that made paying prevailing wage on municipal projects a condition for getting state funds.

But there is a different and much darker story unfolding in those other states where Republicans gained power.

Recent news reports from Michigan quote Republican state legislators there as saying that ending the state’s long history of paying prevailing wage to construction workers will be their top priority this year. They repeat the false claims that prevailing wage makes projects more expensive, while ignoring the higher productivity and superior quality workmanship prevailing wage brings.

Hundreds of bills are introduced each year in Michigan, but the very first bill of this year, Senate Bill 1, contains these Republicans’ top priority: slashing workers’ paychecks by taking away the prevailing wage.

Interestingly, Republican Governor Rick Snyder is quoted as saying he supports prevailing wage and is not interested in repealing it. But this is the same Rick Snyder who two years ago denied interest in passing a right-to-work law, but when one reached him, immediately signed it, denying workers of their long-held rights to unionize and bargain collectively.

In Indiana, a Republican legislator named Jerry Torr introduced a prevailing wage repeal measure, saying prevailing wages for workers violates contractors’ rights to pay much lower wages. “You have a group of people who get together to set an artificial wage rather than the free market,” he was quoted in news reports. That is his excuse for wanting the workers he represents to have their paychecks slashed.

Pete Rimsans, the leader of the Indiana Building Trades, replied that the prevailing wage has benefited Indiana by creating thousands of good paying construction jobs. “It’s a path to the middle class. When people learn these trades, they can go anywhere in the world and make a good living and support their family,” he said.

In West Virginia, the incoming Republican leader of the State Senate, Bill Cole, is quoted as saying that by cutting workers’ wages, the state can build more projects for the same money, and said he will try get prevailing wage repealed. But here in the west, the Golden Gate Bridge and Hoover Dam, built by workers earning the then-prevailing wage of 80 cents per hour, are still serving us well a century later. The value of prevailing wage should be unquestioned.

However, according to news reports, many West Virginia contractors are lining up against the repeal. One of them, Kim Carfagna, explained that a repeal would bring in out-of-state contractors hoping to undercut projects. “Loss of wage to our own people, and that wage going out of state. I just can’t understand how any legislator can explain that to his constituents.”

Sadly, many of these anti-worker politicians were elected with the help of blue-collar workers, who were falsely persuaded that they had workers’ best interests at heart. The likely result is that in many states, these working people will see their wages slashed.

The enemies of working people are always looking for opportunities to lower our quality of life. These stories remind us that we must always be vigilant, united, and active in elections and in the political process, and that if we ever relax our efforts on behalf of working families, our enemies will surely make us pay.

 

 

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