Reps. Mulrooney and Osienski: Dispelling misconceptions about anti-labor laws

 

This column was published in today's edition of The News Journal

 

By Reps. Michael P. Mulrooney and Ed Osienski

 

Delaware is once again facing a tight budget year, and we legislators are facing tough decisions these next several months. In addition to our bipartisan Joint Finance Committee – which writes the state’s operating budget – we have a task force looking at our revenue streams and how to improve them. As we move forward, there undoubtedly will be a lot of ideas put on the table to address our budget issues.

Republican lawmakers have already dusted off two of their tried-and-proven-untrue “solutions”: overhaul Delaware’s prevailing wage laws and implement so-called “right-to-work” legislation.

Currently, Delaware is seeing its unemployment rate drop faster than the national average. While that is great news, wages remain fairly flat. This means our middle class continues to feel the pressure. These GOP initiatives purport to help jumpstart our economy, but they actually would continue to chip away at our weakened middle class and slow their recovery.

We believe that a strong, vibrant middle class is essential to a healthy Delaware economy. When the middle class has quality jobs with good wages and stable benefits, everyone does better. Families are better able to provide for their children and save for college. They have more disposable income to spend at local businesses, which boosts the economy. All of this means more revenue coming into the state while fewer residents rely on state services.

Opponents take a simplistic view that equates higher wages with higher overall costs. Wages and benefits are only about one-third of overall construction costs – and that percentage has been falling. Prevailing wage requirements help ensure that competition among contractors in the bidding process is focused on areas of overall cost efficiency, high productivity, and innovative methods. The most qualified and responsible contractors will find other cost-saving measures before cutting wages and benefits, which is exactly what the state wants from its public contractors – efficiency and productivity that doesn’t come at the expense of hardworking Delawareans.Prevailing wage laws set pay rates and benefits for workers on state-funded projects. The prevailing wage rate is determined by surveys sent to contractors in all trades, such as carpenters, plumbers and electricians, to collect information on wages and benefits being paid in each county to tradesman working on all types of construction projects, private and public. This establishes the true, current construction market rates for the area.Republicans stated in a letter to the governor and accompanying press release that they believe that right-to-work laws and “meaningful changes” to our prevailing wage laws would help grow our economy. They tell us the prevailing wage drives up the cost of state construction projects and point to outlier figures to stoke the flames. They coined the phrase “right-to-work” so it would sound like a plan to create jobs. As with many things, the devil is in the details.

While there is always room for improvement, fundamental changes or the elimination of the prevailing wage for state projects will not result in savings for the state; it will result in shrunken wages for taxpaying citizens. Contractors will simply pay workers less and increase their profit margins.

Similarly, the Republicans’ other proposal, right to work, is another partisan talking point masquerading as a jobs plan. Its purpose is to serve the interests of big business by diminishing the rights of workers, not supporting them.

Several states have adopted “right-to-work” laws of some form over the years, which means we can compare prosperity in states where organized labor is free to represent workers and states where workers’ rights to organize are curtailed. A 2012 report from the Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan agency of Congress, showed there is no conclusive evidence proving “right-to-work” laws spur job growth or reduce unemployment.

The CRS did find hard evidence that shows average wages are $7,000 lower per person in “right-to-work” states than in states that respect the role of unions. That is a huge hit for families when every dollar counts. That is part of why Democrats often line up against such “right-to-work” proposals.

We have a lot of tough decisions ahead of us this year, but if you hear about bills affecting prevailing wage or right to work, just remember that the details likely tell a different story. We will work to pass a responsible budget that helps – not hurts – the middle class and moves Delaware’s economy forward.

Rep. Michael P. Mulrooney represents the 17th District and chairs the House Labor Committee. Rep. Edward Osienski represents the 24th District and is co-chair of the House Labor Committee.