A spokesperson for Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce recently told the Wisconsin State Journal, “We don’t want to make it too comfortable to remain unemployed.” Currently, the maximum weekly unemployment benefit is $370. Who on this planet describes $370 a week as “comfortable”?

The president of the Associated Builders & Contractors has cited “inflated wages” in opposition to prevailing wage. Are rising wages on Main Street somehow a bad thing?

The perspectives from corporate groups such as WMC and ABC are relevant to understand their criticisms of prevailing wage laws.

Now here’s a mainstream perspective:

Prevailing wage laws require that construction workers on public construction projects be paid wages offered on similar jobs sites by local Wisconsin workers. It is widely recognized there is a worker shortage in the trades, and in order for the next generation to pursue these careers, it needs to make financial sense.

Should we expect a person who completes a multiyear apprenticeship program and performs physically demanding work in extreme conditions be paid wages so low that they are unable to obtain a middle-class lifestyle?

Prevailing wage and Wisconsin’s low bid law have held a close association. (The low bid law generally requires public construction projects be awarded blindly to the lowest bidder). While opponents of prevailing wage frequently mention the “free market,” certainly they would agree that the low bid law falls outside of it.

When building a house, most consumers conduct some investigation into the credibility of the builders submitting bids rather than accepting the lowest bid sight unseen. That is the free market. Prevailing wage ensured a level playing field among bidders within the low bid system. It held accountable out-of-state contractors that don’t pay Wisconsin taxes or Wisconsin wages.

Since prevailing wage’s repeal, these carpetbagging shops increased their share of public work here substantially.

Mainstream perspectives support prevailing wage. The federal prevailing wage law known as Davis-Bacon receives broad support in Congress. The U.S. House votes on this regularly, and it is routinely passed with both Democrat and Republican support—one of the rare issues both parties agree on in Washington, D.C.

The most vocal critic of Davis-Bacon in Congress is Rep. Steve King of Iowa who has been removed from all committee assignments by his own party due to his racism. Hardly a mainstream voice.

Embracing prevailing wage in Wisconsin reflects our values of supporting the middle class, respecting the taxpayer and standing up to extreme perspectives.

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Andrew Disch is the political director for the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters.

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