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Letter to the editor: Common wage builds our communities

Friday, August 8, 2014 - 12:01 am

Recently an article was printed regarding the common construction wage. It’s interesting how someone turns a policy that ensures a strong middle class and protects taxpayers’ investments into a union vs. non-union issue, while ignoring the ways in which it builds our communities.

Common construction wage is the wage paid to construction workers on publicly financed projects that cost over $350,000. This policy covers wages for all construction workers (union and non-union), ensures quality for taxpayers and maintains a strong middle class. In fact, the intent of the policy is to keep big government with big money from coming in and undercutting local wages and individual communities’ standards of living.

Wages are determined in each county by a five-member panel made up of two taxpayers and a representative from the business sector, workforce and the awarding agency. Panel members receive information on construction wages in the area and vote on what the wages should be for that project based on data presented. In fact, without the common construction wage, taxpayers would not have a voice in the process of financing their community’s projects.

The common construction wage has a long history of being the best deal for taxpayers. Fair earnings ensure high-skilled workers on projects, meaning they finish projects on time and build a quality product meant to last. This includes projects in our community that we are proud of, such as the Allen County Public Library, TinCaps stadium and parking garage and the Public Safety Academy.

Companies with low-wage contracts often hire low-skilled workers, resulting in more errors and slower productivity. Projects go over time and budget, leaving taxpayers to foot the bill for poorer-quality roads, bridges and buildings that just don’t last.

By only addressing labor costs, the writer is ignoring the vast majority of expenses for construction projects. Labor costs in Indiana account for only 23 percent of overall construction costs. To achieve a 15 percent savings on construction by lowering wages means lowering wages by approximately 50 percent, putting many workers below the minimum wage level. However, materials make up 43 percent of construction costs. To save the most for taxpayers, why didn’t the author propose a tax break on building materials?

Even if the city did find a way around state law to lower our residents’ wages, taxpayers wouldn’t save, but only subsidize the work. Workers earning wages below common construction wage are eligible for over $3,000 annually in public assistance. A higher share of construction workers in states without a common construction wage law do not have health insurance compared to workers in states that do have this law. This means workers have to rely on expensive emergency room care subsidized by taxpayers. Also, more workers in non-prevailing wage law states live in public housing subsidized by the taxpayer.

I am proud to live in a community where our representative government understands the value of the middle class. Common construction wage keeps good jobs in the community for our friends and neighbors while ensuring the taxpayers get the best product for their investment.

Shane Harris