Soapbox

Bill protects workers on public projects

Construction crews work on a concessions stand at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, Calif., on Wednesday, March 16, 2015. Public projects are built under prevailing-wage laws.
Construction crews work on a concessions stand at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, Calif., on Wednesday, March 16, 2015. Public projects are built under prevailing-wage laws. apayne@sacbee.com

John Loudon’s recent commentary attacking Senate Bill 954 is misleading (“Don’t freeze out non-union workers,” Viewpoints, June 22).

SB 954, which goes before the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, does one thing: It protects construction workers on public works projects from having a portion of their wages taken without their permission and then used against them by so-called industry advancement organizations that aren’t party to collective bargaining agreements.

The reason is simple: Some of these industry advancement organizations use these funds to promote a political agenda that is the opposite of advancing the industry – fighting to reduce workers’ wages. You’d be hard pressed to find workers who believe that a portion of their pay should be used to lower their wages.

Prevailing wage laws have been in place for nearly a century and supported by both political parties because they not only produce middle-class construction jobs, but because they promote more jobs and local hiring, safer work sites, better workmanship and less reliance on public assistance at no increased cost to taxpayers. It’s the overwhelming consensus of reputable economists that prevailing wages protect workers and taxpayers alike.

Absent these standards, it’s a race to the bottom. States without prevailing-wage laws also tend to spend more on materials, fuel and welfare for blue-collar construction workers. That’s why states or cities that have repealed their prevailing-wage laws almost never see any savings for taxpayers.

Working with an organization supported by both workers and their employers, I know the immense responsibility that comes with this industry advancement money. It’s about facilitating partnerships that help both contractors and workers get the skills and support they need to do top-quality work and provide a decent living.

SB 954, authored by Sen. Bob Hertzberg, a Los Angeles Democrat, ensures that every dollar in prevailing wages earned by construction workers – union and non-union – is used to benefit the workers who earned those dollars. No reasonable person would argue that those dollars should be taken from the employee without permission to fund groups that actively lobby for lower wages, fewer benefits and less-safe work sites for those same workers.

Emily Cohen is director of government relations for United Contractors, a California trade association of union-affiliated contractors. She can be contacted at ecohen@unitedcontractors.org.

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