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Letter: Taxpayers lose out with prevailing wage mandate

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I was disappointed with the general conclusion of your editorial on prevailing wage reform. Several items that you based your conclusion on were factually incorrect, and that may have led to your poor conclusion.

Minnesota prevailing wage law is different from the federal law. Our state law looks for the "most frequently occurring wage" instead of an average or median wage as the federal law seeks.

Since most non-union wages are individually set and vary widely, it is very hard for a non-union wage to prevail. Union wages are negotiated to the penny, and therefore, a mass of identical wages can be determined to be the "most frequently occurring." This policy is different from the federal calculation, and was intentionally done to favor union wages.

Secondly, the law does favor the highest wage. Specifically, if there are no repeated wage (no two identical), or more than one mode, state rules require the highest rate to be paid. These calculation methods are facts, not opinion.

Finally, you missed the point of the exercise. Construction workers are well paid. Please point out a licensed plumber that earns only minimum wage. They deserve to be paid well since they work hard, are well trained, and have a tough work environment. But they already get that pay through collectively or individually bargaining with their employer.

Prevailing wage sets aside that private rate, and mandates a super minimum wage. The disparity has been documented by numerous academic sources to be higher than average wages for the same trade in the same area, and in 1998, the state Senate actually voted for $1 million to reimburse schools that had been pushed into paying extra requiring prevailing wage.

The point of the Gottwalt and Gerlach bill is to try to keep people employed; able to pay their mortgages and put food on the table.

Construction workers lose their houses when they have no job, not when they have work at the same rate they get paid on private jobs.

We want efficiency so that we get more building for the taxpayer, can afford more projects, and put more workers in the field. Letting workers and employers negotiate pay is not a radical idea, that's how it works every day for the rest of the world. Why should publicly-funded construction be any different?

Phil Raines

Director of Legislative and Public Affairs

Associated Builders and Contractors

Eden Prairie, Minn.

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