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Cutting wages does not help communities build

To the Editor:
We live in a consumer-based economy, which means our economy is stronger when folks have money to spend on goods and services. Yet state Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen wants to take away middle-class purchasing power from blue-collar construction workers by diminishing prevailing wages.
In his recent letter to the editor, he cited a claim made by a county commissioner that an unnamed local project costing $2.5 million would have cost $800,000, or 32 percent, less if prevailing wage laws had not been in effect. This is an absurd claim. Politicians are asking you to cut construction wages and career opportunities to save 32 percent, yet nearly all studies find labor costs are only approximately 23 percent of total construction costs, meaning that even if labor was free the savings could not be that high.
County commissioners, like most politicians, are subject to the whims of partisan decision-making. But an expert would know that 75 percent of peer-reviewed studies show that prevailing wages do not increase construction costs. Instead, they support local economies, create a skilled workforce and sustain families.
Elected officials must realize that we get what we pay for and that promising careers build strong communities. Under state law, public construction bids are awarded to the “low bidder.” By wanting to remove prevailing wage, the good representative is asking taxpayers to reward the contractors who are willing to pay their workers the least. Allowing cut-rate contractors from other states to come in and build Minnesota’s infrastructure lowers our standards and hurts our communities. It’s damaging for politicians to accept the idea of importing cheaper and cheaper labor.
These shortsighted savings efforts, at the expense of the citizen wage earner, have had real consequences right here in McLeod County. Last summer, a contractor from Arlington, South Dakota, wanted to “help infrastructure dollars go further” on a construction project, just like Rep. Gruenhagen. In order to save construction costs on this private project, the contractor applied for an H-2B Temporary Employment Certification for 80 foreign construction workers. The application was approved and allowed foreign workers to perform local construction work for less than $16 per hour. Minnesota construction workers lost jobs. Wages and purchasing vitality seeped out of our communities because somebody believed they could save money at the expense of workers. We can’t know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.
Mike Wilde
Executive Director
Fair Contracting Foundation