In this morning’s Frederick News Post we have more evidence of just how important the teaching of history is in our schools. Here’s what County Council member Tony Chmelik has to say about Maryland’s prevailing wage:
Councilman Tony Chmelik said he wants to reverse that change altogether. He said the change was a “political boondoggle” meant to please labor unions.
Deep breaths! Count to 10! Repeat! Seriously folks, if one is not able to see how the labor movement has benefited this country we really, really question that person’s ability to govern our fair county. This whole Republican attack against the labor movement and fair wages is so reminiscent of how rich plantation owners manipulated the poor whites of the South into supporting a system that was against their own economic interests. I think it’s time for a nice Upton Sinclair quote from his book, “The Jungle” about conditions in the meat packing plants in Chicago:
Here was a population, low-class and mostly foreign, hanging always on the verge of starvation, and dependent for its opportunities of life upon the whim of men every bit as brutal and unscrupulous as the old-time slave drivers; under such circumstances immorality was exactly as inevitable, and as prevalent, as it was under the system of chattel slavery. Things that were quite unspeakable went on there in the packing houses all the time, and were taken for granted by everybody; only they did not show, as in the old slavery times, because there was no difference in color between master and slave.
Sound even a little bit familiar to some issues we may be having today? So please Mr. Chmelik do go on about how giving people a living wage is a boondoggle. Please feed us more rhetoric about how labor unions are ruining this country and how rolling back the prevailing wage will solve all our school construction woes.
We like our readers to be informed so we want to talk a little about the prevailing wage here in Maryland. It was first enacted in 1945. Yes, that’s right 1945. It’s not a new thing at all. What does change is the numbers. The State now requires that if a public project costs more than $500,000 and they contribute more than 25% of the costs, the county must pay the prevailing wage. In 1999, Prince Georges County asked Mark J. Prus, Associate Professor of Economics at SUNY Cortland to do a cost analysis of the prevailing wage and school construction costs. Read the whole study here, and let us highlight some main points. First of all, why historically do states (Maryland is not the only one) enact prevailing wage laws?:
Prevailing wage laws emerged from a concern that cutthroat competition over wages in construction would lead the industry down a low-wage, low-skill development path. This was said to put the quality of construction at risk and lead to an itinerant, footloose, low-wage construction labor force. Poor construction workers would make poor neighbors and potential burdens on the community. Reasonably paid construction workers, on the other hand, held out the possibility of being solid neighbors, good citizens and productive members of the community. Government, by the operation of prevailing wage laws, was supposed to get out of the business of cutting government costs by cutting the wages of its citizens. Whatever labor standards had been established, whatever wages prevailed in a local community; that is what the law said government should pay on public works.
Hmm, so the goal is to make sure that good work is done, people are skilled and are paid enough to become economic participants in the community in which they live. The horror! So what was the conclusion of this analysis? (We know it’s an older study, but it’s still relevant):
A “here-and-there” linear regression model was developed to estimate the effect of prevailing wage regulations on total construction costs for schools, controlling for other factors. This model controlled for the type of school, the size of the project, and building characteristics. It also controlled for general differences in construction costs between states with and without prevailing wage laws and general differences between the cost of public and private construction (whether or not done under prevailing wage regulations). Controlling for these factors, this model could find no statistically significant impact on total construction costs due to prevailing wage requirements.
In comparison with states that did not have these laws, there was no statistical difference. Now, in the study, it did show that there was an increase for high schools as compared to elementary and middle, mostly because they are bigger and more complicated structures and therefore take longer to build.
We are quite aware that Frederick High’s construction costs are well over the estimate. And yes, some of that cost is due to the fact that in the original estimate this wage increase was not factored in. But that is not a reason to fight the prevailing wage law. We need to have the governor release our funds. And perhaps we need more help from the State in general when it comes to school construction. The answer does not lie in a cheap labor force. It never does.
We will leave you with this nice poster that we got from our Republican Rebel friends: