A fair deal for building trades

Read the latest OpEd from CT LMCC Director and former State Senator and Mayor of Bridgeport CT: https://ctmirror.org/category/ct-viewpoints/a-fair-deal-for-building-trades/ 

The United States, since 1931, has required that a living wage, a prevailing wage for each region of the country, along with suitable retirement and health care benefits be paid on any job spending significant federal funds.  Half of the states of our country have passed their own “Prevailing Wage Laws” to require similar fair treatment of workers on projects built with state funds.  Many municipalities also sign Prevailing Wage Agreements, PLAs, to ensure workers building local schools, firehouses, parks, and libraries are given wages that with hard work, will give them a career to support their families and a solid middle-class lifestyle.

The federal law is called the Davis-Bacon Act.  Its sponsors, Sen. James J. Davis, from Pennsylvania and U.S. Rep. Robert L. Bacon, from New York fought hard to lift workers out of poverty and into the middle class.  The sponsors wanted to protect the government from what they called “shoddy” workmanship, “exploited” or “low skilled” workers.  They wanted to stabilize the construction industry, protect workers, and get the taxpayers their money’s worth.  The bill was passed by Congress with bi-partisan support and was signed by President Herbert Hoover.  Davis, Bacon, and Hoover were all Republicans.

Connecticut is one of about half the states which have codified their own “Little Davis-Bacon” laws guaranteeing the same fairness to workers and protection to the taxpayers.  Several proposals are now before the Connecticut General Assembly to promote local hiring and fair wages This would continue to stabilize the construction industry, protect workers, and ensure that the highest quality buildings are constructed within our state.  It would state and local taxpayers by ensuring they are getting what they are paying for.

Let your legislator know you support local hiring and fair wages for Connecticut’s highly skilled building trades.

As a State Senator and Mayor of the State’s largest city for over 15 years, I learned that building trade careers paying prevailing wages are key to building strong communities.  During my years as mayor my administration spent or directed over $1 billion dollars in new construction or rehabilitation.  Most of that money was spent on projects employing the building trades and much was built under a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) and nearly all the wages paid were at the level being prescribed in this proposed bill.

PLAs were giving taxpayers exactly what they were paying for and delivering huge community benefits: audited payrolls with no corruption, careers with health care and retirement, free training, apprenticeships, outreach to veterans and the disadvantaged, excellent safety record, and civic involvement. PLAs gave us stability and success.

I came to understand that without a PLA, I’d be playing roulette with taxpayer money. Without a PLA, workers would come from who knows where and spend their money anywhere but here.

I learned that prevailing wages helped my community.  None of the hundreds of workers paid at the level of a union wage ever went without health care.  No one being paid prevailing wage ever had to ask our hospitals for charity, never did they struggle after retiring, nor lose their homes, nor did they stop being involved with their community.  Remember the period of time I am referring to was the worst economy since the Great Depression.  While Bridgeport had as many as 5,300 homes in foreclosure, our economy stayed strong and benefitted from the many local workers being paid a prevailing wage pumping their dollars back into the local economy.

Members of both parties are working, in their own way, to build Connecticut’s economy.  Reducing wages to Connecticut’s highly skilled, hardworking, middle class tradespeople should not be in anyone’s playbook.  We need to pass legislation that protects middle class careers and not a race to the bottom of lower wages, poor health care, and impoverished retirement.  It only costs us all more in the long run.

Bill Finch is the Director of Connecticut Labor/Management Cooperative Committee. He is also a former State Senator and Mayor of Bridgeport.