Labor leader: Prevailing wage protects workers from ‘race to bottom’

By Matt Glynn , and Jonathan D. Epstein
Published June 30, 2017 | Updated June 30, 2017

New York State has had a prevailing wage law since 1894, and supporters say it’s needed to protect workers from being undercut and underpaid by contractors and government agencies. They also argue that prevailing wage laws help ensure that the size of public contracts – and the potential for a bidding race to the bottom to win them – don’t destabilize local and regional construction markets.

But critics say the laws hurt free-market competition, drive up costs on public projects and provide little real 30benefit to the economy other than protecting labor unions.

Conservative researcher E.J. McMahon and union advocate Richard Lipsitz Jr. recently sat down with The News to talk about the controversy over the state’s prevailing wage requirements.

Richard Lipsitz Jr. sees the prevailing wage law as protection against the “race to the bottom.”

The president of the Western New York Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, an umbrella organization covering 100,000 union members in six counties, Lipsitz has been active in the labor movement since the 1970s, and the federation he leads has been outspoken in the drive to raise the state’s minimum wage.

Q: How does the state’s prevailing wage benefit construction workers?

A: It is a wedge against the race to the bottom in the construction field. Without provisions like prevailing wage, there would be no guarantee that a contractor wouldn’t go down and pay the minimum that he has to or she has to. It’s a rule that keeps this race from the bottom from being carried out in the construction field.

And it also helps with the workers in all other fields. The idea of a prevailing wage, as a good wage and benefits package that people can live on, is mostly talked about in the construction field. But the Commerce Department keeps a prevailing wage on all kinds of occupations in New York State, not just for building trades. So I don’t think it’s quite right to just see it as a construction trades question.

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