HELP RESTORE THE PREVAILING WAGE IN LIVINGSTON COUNTY!
What the Board Did
On Monday, August 4, a bare majority of the Livingston County Board of Commissioners voted to abolish their prevailing wage ordinance. The measure had come out of the Board’s Finance Committee 9-0 the week before, and was on the Commission’s consent agenda, but nine community members spoke against it, causing it to be removed from the consent agenda. Operating Engineers has a 550 acre training facility in the county that pays $80,000 a year in taxes and has a huge economic impact with all the people they bring in for training. Their spokespeople were very persuasive. One commissioner said she could go either way, but ended up voting yes (against prevailing wage). In the end, the vote was 5 to 4 in favor of the following resolution:
RESOLUTION NO: 2014-08-236
LIVINGSTON COUNTY DATE: August 4, 2014
RESOLUTION PROHIBITING A REQUIREMENT FOR PREVAILING WAGE ON CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS FUNDED BY LIVINGSTON COUNTY – BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS
WHEREAS, Michigan is now a “right to work” state allowing contractors and workers alike to participate freely in the construction industry.
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that all future construction projects funded by Livingston County taxpayers will not require prevailing wage.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Board of Commissioners will consider waiving this prohibition for any future construction projects if Federal or State funding sources mandate prevailing wage.
How the individual Commissioners voted
Yes (to get rid of the prevailing wage requirement): Kate Lawrence, District 1; William Green, District 2; David Domas, District 3; Ronald VanHouten, District 4; Donald Parker, District 5.
No (to retain the prevailing wage requirement): Steve Williams, District 6; Carol Griffiths, District 7 (chair); Dennis Dolan, District 8 (former plumber), and Gary Childs, District 9.
Commissioner Domas was the prime mover on the Yes side, strongly supported by Commissioner Parker, who disingenuously claimed that any business that wants to bid prevailing wage is still free to do so. Among the Commissioners, it was Commissioner Dolan he did most of the arguing against it, but Commissioner Childs was also a strong opponent. It was Commissioner Kate Lawrence, former mayor of Brighton, who said she could go either way.
This is not over!
We have a real chance of moving the Commission to revisit this issue, with at least one Commissioner changing position. Whether or not that happens, the Livingston Democratic Party is running a candidate against one of the ring-leaders of this misguided policy. We should strongly support that candidate.
What you can do
If you are a resident of Livingston County, please directly contact the Commissioner from your District. Here is a link to the contact information for the Commissioners: And here is a link to the district map in case you are not sure which District you are in:
Whether or not you live in Livingston County, please sign our Coworker.org petition in support of restoring the prevailing wage in Livingston County.
Why is getting rid of the prevailing wage a terrible idea?
The prevailing wage is a long-standing policy with a proven track record across this country. It might seem that the county will save money by abolishing it, but you don’t get something for nothing. The floor set by the prevailing wage enables workers and contractors that choose to invest in skills development and higher quality production to compete with contractors who could otherwise undercut their business by paying lower wages and skimping on training in order to offer lower bids. If those more willing to invest in the workforce keep losing bids, the result will be a vicious circle in which all contractors feel constrained to cut back on wages and investment in training becomes falls as well. Less training means more accidents on the job site. It also means lower quality work. For the public, that means buildings and roads that are less safe.
Lower wages also mean that the local building trades and other workers who benefit from the floor set by the prevailing wage – and are also community members – have less income to spend locally. Let’s not forget that consumer purchasing power is the ultimate job creator: ask any business person how many jobs he or she will be creating if consumer demand for his or her products dries up.
From the county’s point of view, if incomes of local building trades workers and business owners fall, so will property tax values: If the tax base shrinks, then either rates must go up or services must be gut.
Last but certainly not least, undercutting wages high enough to keep working people in the middle class exacerbate income inequality in Livingston County. Income inequality in this country is already at levels we haven’t seen since the 1920s. It is far too high to be healthy for our democracy, because the increasing concentration of income and wealth is associated with concentrated political power as well. As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis put it, “We can either have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”
The Mackinac Center is a big proponent of eliminating the prevailing wage in Michigan, and helps to coordinate the push on Republicans to adopt the plutocracy’s agenda. But if those who love democracy weigh in, we will win. The plutocracy has most of the money, by definition, but we have most of the votes! Let’s show them that in this country and this county the people rule!
Do we have evidence to back the claims we just made?
You bet! For key findings of academic studies that examine the impacts of ending the prevailing wage in other states, and suspending it at the state level in Michigan from 1994-97, see the three-page overview of the evidence developed by the Michigan building trades (PDF).