The Illinois Prevailing Wage Law by Marc Poulos
Executive Director, Indiana-Illinois-Iowa Foundation for Fair Contracting
I am the Executive Director of the Indiana-Illinois-Iowa Foundation for Fair Contracting (III FFC), a not-for-profit joint labor/management organization affiliated with the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 and its signatory contractors. III FFC was established to support, promote and encourage fair contracting. Our mission is to ensure a level playing field in the public works construction arena for both contractors and workers. As a labor/management organization, balancing the interests of business and labor is a core value of the III FFC. We believe in moderate, responsible public policies that reward work, grow the middle class, and create broad-based prosperity that benefits workers, businesses and taxpayers alike.
The Illinois prevailing wage law sets uniform pay rates for workers employed on public works construction projects. It requires that construction workers be paid no less than the general market wage rates in the community where the work is performed. In every county in Illinois, the prevailing wage is a good, fair wage that allows workers to pursue a decent living standard. The prevailing wage is also good for construction contractors because it establishes uniform wage rates, making their labor costs identical and predictable as they develop their bids and proposals. Prevailing wage is good for taxpayers too because it ensures that we get the highest quality construction from professional, responsible contractors and highly skilled workers who have completed proper construction craft apprenticeship training programs.
Unfortunately, Gov. Rauner and his allies in Springfield have spent months relentlessly attempting to push through extremist plans to repeal the state prevailing wage law or allow public bodies to opt out of the law at the local level. Gov. Rauner has repeatedly claimed that eliminating prevailing wages will reduce the cost of public works construction projects by 20%. There is no truth to that silly claim. According to the US Census Bureau’s Economic Census, labor accounts for 20-25% of the cost of public works construction in Illinois. So it is mathematically impossible to save 20% by cutting labor costs unless you expect construction workers to work for free. Furthermore, numerous objective academic studies have consistently found that states that have repealed their prevailing wage laws realized no cost savings.
Despite the governor’s ideological obsession with slashing prevailing wages, there are positive signs elsewhere that both Republicans and Democrats alike understand the value of prevailing wages. Last year, congress passed the first comprehensive multi-year federal transportation funding bill in more than 10 years, and president Obama signed it in December. More than 100 amendments were considered along the way, including one sponsored by a right-wing Iowa congressmen to repeal the federal equivalent of the state prevailing wage, known as the Davis-Bacon law. That extremist amendment was defeated soundly. Interestingly, all 18 members of the Illinois congressional delegation – Republican and Democrat, urban and rural, conservative and liberal – voted against it. This bipartisan consensus shows that the entire Illinois congressional delegation understands something that Rauner does not: repealing prevailing wage laws never results in any taxpayer savings but will result in a “race to the bottom” economic model that undermines high-road construction companies, disrespects properly trained and skilled construction workers, and diminishes one of the historic standards that helped give rise to the great American middle class.
For many years, the Democratic County Chairmen’s Association has been a trusted partner in the building trades’ efforts to protect our workers and contractors in Illinois, and we look forward to a strong continued partnership as we move forward together.
Indiana-Illinois-Iowa Foundation for Fair Contracting
In addition to heading the III-FFC, Marc Poulos also serves as Executive Director of the Midwest Operating Engineers Construction Industry Research Fund, the Indiana and Illinois Operators Joint Labor-Management PACs, and a Democratic Precinct Committeeman in Will County, IL.