June 2015

Elections Matter

Union ironworkers in Indiana woke up to bad news this May. Governor Mike Pence signed a bill repealing the state’s common construction wage, a prevailing wage affecting workers on state-funded projects in Indiana. The new law will have serious consequences for Indiana ironworkers for years to come. It was passed through a combination of backroom maneuvering and the largest anti-union majority in the Indiana state legislature in recent history

This is more proof that elections matter.

Prevailing wage laws set minimum wages for tradesmen and women working on government projects. This minimum wage stops local contractors from being underbid by out-of-state companies with lower labor standards. The rate is fair for taxpayers because it is based on free-market wages in the area. The federal government has its own prevailing wage law, known as the Davis-Bacon Act, that applies to federal projects and many states have prevailing wages of their own. This is a big deal because government is the largest construction consumer in the market. Prevailing wage has helped deliver quality projects for the public good for decades, and helps building trades unions hold on to their market share.

Union workers in Indiana won’t see their wages drop right away, but they will see less work as out-of-state contractors start sniping projects out from under them. These out-of-state contractors will disrupt the local labor market, leading to lower wages for union workers in the future as our market share and bargaining power erodes. The effect will be even worse for nonunion construction workers, who will see a dramatic pay cut right away. Prevailing wage repeal hits everyone’s paychecks.

That’s right: Even though we don’t work for the government, our paychecks depend on who wins elections. The faster we recognize it and take action, the better off we’ll be.

We have to act fast. Anti-union majorities came into power across the country in the last election, when working class voters stayed home. Besides Indiana, these politicians have rolled back prevailing wage in West Virginia and Nevada. More states are on their list of targets, including union strongholds like Michigan. Unions recently defeated attacks on prevailing wage in Wisconsin and in the U.S. Congress, but new threats are around the corner.

As a union, we are concerned with economic issues affecting ironworkers’ bottom lines. Many other issues matter to voters, of course, but I urge you to look at a candidate’s record and position on prevailing wage before casting your ballot. Support for prevailing wage should be a precondition for your support of a candidate. If a politician won’t stand up for your right to make a living, how can you expect him or her to stand up for you?

This is not entirely a partisan issue. The federal law establishing prevailing wage, Davis-Bacon, was sponsored by Republicans. A strong constituency in the Republican Party still supports prevailing wage, and 52 Republicans in the U.S. Congress broke with their party’s leadership to defend Davis-Bacon in the last vote. We can’t ignore that party plays a role, however. Anti-prevailing wage bills have all originated from Republican-controlled legislatures, and not one Democratic congressman has voted against Davis-Bacon coverage in this Congress. We will continue to support individual elected officials of either party who are with us on prevailing wage and other issues, but we must acknowledge allowing Republican majorities to take power in states and the federal government puts all our jobs at risk.

Remember, elections matter. The half hour you spend at the voting booth in the coming election will impact your work and well-being for a long time after. Make sure you vote wisely. Contact the hall for help getting registered and for information about which candidates stand with us on prevailing wage and other issues. Then don’t miss out on the action on Election Day. If you expect fair wages, safe work and a strong pension, your brother and sister ironworkers expect you to get out and vote.

Attacks on prevailing wage have come quickly and without warning, so new states may have become at risk since this article went to print. Contact your business manager for up-to-date information about prevailing wage threats in your area.