Bieda: GOP to Michigan workers — Expect cuts under prevailing wage repeal

State Sen. Steve Bieda (D-Warren) speaking in support of prevailing wage at a rally in Lansing in January.

State Sen. Steve Bieda (D-Warren) speaking in support of prevailing wage at a rally in Lansing in January.

Steve Bieda op-ed, Macomb Daily, 1/12/18

Unions built Michigan’s middle class.

It was our neighbors who fought for fair wages, which gave us the greatest era of economic expansion. It was our friends who negotiated reasonable health care and retirement benefits for their families, and it was our families who advocated for secure work environments, which led to less deaths and injuries than ever before.

At a time when union members are being demonized by white-collar politicians and political pundits, who have never gotten their hands dirty, we have to ask ourselves: why is the middle class disappearing?

Michigan is falling behind because lawmakers continue to strip workers of their rights to negotiate basic aspects of their job, together, that everyone else gets to negotiate — including the push to repeal our Prevailing Wage law.

Michigan has had prevailing wage requirements since the Prevailing Wage Act was passed in 1965. Republicans, who have failed to energize a sluggish economy with experimental legislation, refuse to point out that repealing prevailing wage in the ‘90s was so unpopular that it was restored by the people through a statewide vote just three years later.

Prevailing wage is a time-tested standard that requires contracts utilizing state dollars to pay at least the wage rate that other workers receive for similar work in the region. In fact, these laws are identical to a common practice endorsed by Republicans that requires private businesses to pay competitive wages in order to receive taxpayer funding for future expansion.

It was Henry Ford who championed the original prevailing wage by giving his employees a raise that, in return, allowed them to purchase his automobiles. It was a move that was unheard of at the time, but one that continues to pay dividends today.

Prevailing wage also has the benefit of keeping taxpayer money in the hands of Michigan workers. Without prevailing wage, corporate interests would import foreign, unskilled, or low-skilled workers willing to work for less than the standard wage.

You don’t have to look farther than the Fraser sinkhole and 15 Mile road repairs to see the value that both Unions and prevailing wage have added to Macomb County. Experts estimated that this project would take years and millions upon millions of dollars to repair, but that wasn’t the case when we called our Union workers. The Fraser sinkhole and 15 Mile road repairs were completed faster, and, most importantly, under budget because we utilized experienced, skilled professionals under Michigan’s Prevailing Wage Law.

American workers are the best in the world, and we should treat them that way by offering strong, competitive paychecks. Michigan does not need to return to the systems of skilled-trade servitude that countries, like China, use to exploit their workers.

So the next time you hear someone arguing for the repeal of prevailing wage, remind them that lowering paychecks for our friends, families and neighbors will only lead to worker exploitation and a decreased standard of living in Michigan.

Sen. Steve Bieda (D–Warren) was elected to Michigan State Senate in 2010. A Democrat, he represents citizens of the 9th District located in Macomb County that includes the cities of Center Line, Eastpointe, Fraser, Roseville and Warren, and a portion of Clinton Township.

Steve Bieda