The confluence of two issues highlights a sad state of affairs.
The building trades unions have intimidated enough Republicans in some House districts not to vote for a modernization of the prevailing wage threshold that will raise the trigger point at which prevailing wages must be paid from $25,000 to $185,000. A House Appropriations study indicated this move, which has no negative effect on union wages or benefits, would save the commonwealth taxpayers at least $30 million.
At the same time this issue is being debated in the House, the governor announced a proposed moratorium on "PlanCon," in which the state helps fund public school construction that requires the payment of prevailing wages (union wages, but that's another issue) on projects for which state funds are being used.
Thirty million dollars in savings would go a long way to help fund some PlanCon projects.
The current threshold of $25,000 was established in 1961. Raising that to a 2012 equivalent would enable city, township and county officials to stretch tight budget dollars on projects such as road repair, building renovation and modernizing HVAC systems -- quality of life issues for every citizen.
Union bosses claim that holding some legislators hostage is justified to protect "living wages, and ensure quality and safety," and that's a lie. Their rhetoric is really about protecting an archaic system. Building trades unions are no longer needed, nor are they relevant. If it wasn't for their ability to extract PAC money from all their rank and file without those workers' permission -- and without input from them on who to contribute to -- the Pennsylvania could be in the lead of all states on the road to recovery.
To prove this point, there is another bill on prevailing wage modernization that simply asks for job descriptions for all construction workers to be written and made available publicly on a state website, and to require Labor and Industry enforcement officers and construction contractors to work consistently within those parameters. As incredulous as it may seem, contractors are fined and even disbarred for not being in conformance with a job description that doesn't exist.
Open shop contractors are asking for Pennsylvania to put the job descriptions in writing and post them publicly, and this problem would be solved. Building trades bosses are against this and are holding us along with the legislators hostage, stuck in the 1960s.
The union tail is wagging the public dog. Less than 16 percent of the construction workforce is unionized. Taxpayers need to speak out, to encourage and support our legislators, letting them know you stand behind them when they stand up against the building trades unions because in reality, they are standing up for you.
-- John "Jack" R. Zimmer is president and CEO of ABC Keystone Chapter.