Op-Ed

Prevailing wage law protects Ky. workers and saves money

Paul L. Whalen
Paul L. Whalen

Kentucky’s House needs to vote against passage of Senate Bill 9 which would repeal the prevailing wage for the construction workers on Kentucky school projects. Kentucky’s Senate needs to reconsider its views on the prevailing wage.

In an era of funding shortfalls, it is understandable to consider areas to cut costs. However, repealing the prevailing wage for construction workers would negatively impact their families who send their children to Kentucky’s public schools.

Prevailing is defined as the hourly wage, usual benefits and overtime paid to the majority or average of workers, laborers and mechanics within a particular geographic area.

The prevailing wage promotes and encourages a skilled workforce on our public buildings. Does Kentucky want less skilled craftspeople to build our children’s schools?

There are also other professionals who work on school construction projects, including architectural and engineering firms who can earn from four percent to 15 percent of the total cost of the construction of the project.

Owners of construction management firms and prime contractors usually make profits in excess of 10 percent to 15 percent of the cost of the building.

I am not advocating cutting fees for architectural and engineering firms or profits for contractors. However, if Sen. Wil Schroder and his Republican colleagues are going to cut wages for the construction workers, then fundamental fairness requires that all fees and profits related to school construction should be cut.

With the majority of Kentuckians supporting raising the minimum wage, one wonders why Republicans support repealing Kentucky’s prevailing wage law. This law would negatively impact over 75,000 Kentucky construction workers and their families.

Data indicates that construction workers in states that have repealed the prevailing wage make 22 to 25 percent less on average than construction workers in states with a prevailing wage.

In studies of states where the prevailing wage was repealed, in addition to lower wages for construction workers there are these impacts:

▪ Loss of substantial state income and sales tax revenues.

▪ Skilled construction workers left these states and there was a shift to a less skilled and educated construction labor force.

▪ Cost overruns on state road construction tripled in the decade following repeal, due in part to diminished skill of the labor force.

▪ Occupational injuries in construction rose by 15 percent in states which repealed prevailing wage laws.

▪  Construction training dropped by 40 percent.

Unfortunately, Kentucky is already a state where wages are lower than the rest of the nation. Repealing prevailing wage laws will drive wages and incomes even lower for Kentuckians.

There are other ways to save money in government. Repealing the prevailing wage is not one of those ways. In fact, it could cost the commonwealth more in the long run.

Mississippi, Louisiana and Kansas, states without prevailing wage laws, are having problems financing education. Mississippi and Louisiana are at the bottom of the economic and education ladder in the United States.

Should Kentucky join them?

Paul L. Whalen is a Ft. Thomas attorney.

At issue: Jan. 15 Herald-Leader article, “Senate approves prevailing wage bill but Greg Stumbo says it will die in the House” and Jan. 29 Herald-Leader article, “Bevin’s budget bill cuts money for Planned Parenthood, suspends prevailing wage”

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