“Protecting” You from a Living Wage

By Kim Hunter

I was having a great time during my annual pilgrimage to the Detroit Jazz Festival until I heard a young man with a suspicious sounding pitch for people to sign a petition. He said the petition was to support “road funding.” As someone who tries to pay attention to what’s going on, I was surprised that I had heard of nothing of a grassroots road funding initiative. That’s because the petition in question was hardly grassroots and had nothing to do with road funding. His tactic inspired me to make a video exposing the bald faced lie.

The guy with the petitions was using road funding as ruse, a bait and switch to get folks’ attention to sign a petition that would actually kill the prevailing wage and thus lower wages for the mostly unionized workers who construct public buildings. They are using other lies to trick people into signing the petition as well. The goal is for that drop in wages to eventually ripple out and lower what we all earn. It’s a race to the bottom that got a big boost from corporate backed anti-worker “Right to Work” legislation shoved through the legislature in 2012.

There appears to be more than one group of corporate backed petitioners working to lower wages by cutting Michigan’s prevailing wage laws. It’s hard to tell which one is telling which lies. There’s the aforementioned group that’s lying about road funding which may be different from the one lying about transparency in government.

Maybe there are two groups because it’s a tall order to cut the pay of every worker in the state. The corporations have to attack union workers who have fought for a living wage because those folks set the standard for workers.

How does it work? Currently, if the State of Michigan has work done, builds a public building or fixes a school, the people who do the work are paid union scale wages. This effectively sets a floor below which most others employers won’t dip; construction workers tend to get living wages.

Just as organized workers carved out the weekend and the 8-hour day as standards, union wage scale buoys all workers’ wages. And, on the other side, once those who build public facilities get their wages cut, everyone’s wages are in danger of falling. Of course those bankrolling the anti-worker efforts are out to line their own pockets and ignore the documented effects of killing the prevailing wage.

The effects won’t be immediate. This is a gradual process by folks like Dick DeVos (consistent backers of anti-worker bills) who can afford to take their time. But, once we lose the standards set by the prevailing wage, we will be hard pressed to get it back.

Of course there is a way out. You can decline to sign the petition (or at least ask to read the top of the petition before signing). Connect to people through social media and let them know they are being consistently lied to by people with more money than morals. They have got the money, but we have the numbers. Like unionized workers, we have to stand together.