Here’s why California developers must pay construction workers a fair wage

Special to The Bee
OCTOBER 27, 2017 5:00 AM

Eighty five percent of the costs associated with housing construction in California are unrelated to the wages or benefits paid to the workers who actually build it.

And since 1990, those wages, adjusted for inflation, have actually decreased by 25 percent and been redistributed into profit margins for developers, which are growing 50 percent faster than the cost of materials or labor.

Developers got most of what they wanted in housing reform legislation that Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law this month. And yet the building industry continues to complain about wages that are going to be paid to construction workers on certain projects.

The builders claim that they will need to raise prices to grow their already bulging bottom lines if they have to pay their workers enough to live. But there’s no real evidence to support this assertion.

In reality, the elimination of red tape on new housing construction likely will save most developers far more than any modest increase in their workers’ wages.

Peer-reviewed research on prevailing wages shows no impact on total project costs, because these standards promote skills training and quality workmanship that increase productivity and reduce spending on fuel and materials. And because they are market rates that reflect local cost of living, they save taxpayers the cost of subsidizing below market wages with welfare expenditures.

These aren’t abstract academic theories.

In 2015, the state of Indiana repealed its prevailing wage law. Earlier this year, the Indiana Assembly assistant Republican floor leader was asked about the effect on project costs. His response: “It hasn’t saved us a penny.”

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