Time for the end of prevailing wage

Law may have made sense a couple of generations ago, but its time has passed

By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com
You’ve probably seen a lot of headlines about prevailing wage of late — local municipalities backing a bill currently stuck in the state house.

The bill would increase the threshold for public bodies — schools, townships, boroughs and counties — required to pay prevailing wage on construction or renovation projects from $25,000 to $185,000.

While nice in concept, the bill misses an important point: the entire concept of prevailing wage needs to be shown the door. While I am generally sympathetic to union issues, this is one of the areas where I think organized labor is out of bounds.

To be sure, raising the threshold is better than doing nothing, but the entire concept remains a bad idea.

While I can appreciate the reasons prevailing wage came to be — and arguably it made some sense a couple of generations back — its time has come and passed. Between safety rules, inspections and insurance requirements, the building trade is already held to fairly high standards. Builders must hire qualified, capable workers or their projects won’t pass muster.

It would be a little easier to support the status quo if the building trades unions offered an open process to entry for skilled workers. Unfortunately, it is often who you know, not what you know that leads to entry into the trade unions, who often seem to embrace 19th Century thinking when it comes to adding women and minorities to their ranks.

To be honest, it’s bad enough to have taxpayers pay an unwarranted surcharge, but worse to know our tax dollars go to continue cronyism, often preventing smaller, in many cases minority-owned, construction companies from being able to bid competitively for public projects.

The concept of prevailing wage should be shown the door, once and for all.

That makes it puzzling that the state house GOP leaders can’t muster enough votes to pass a common sense increase in the project size threshold. The votes are there in the state Senate and Gov. Tom Corbett has signaled his willingness to sign it, but it can’t seem to escape the lower chamber.

It appears that some local GOP state representatives (not Rep. Chris Ross, a sponsor of the bill, HB 1329), including our own Steve Barrar are among the holdouts preventing passage. Barrar offered a resolution to “transition” the threshold by $25,000 a year. As $185,000 is an almost absurdly generous threshold for the trade unions — it rules out all but the most barebones renovation projects — slowing down the increase, and sucking millions of dollars of taxpayer money away from students, roads and public safety makes even less sense.

With our shared public history, any time Rep. Barrar finds himself well to the left of my position — not to mention that of a vast majority of his constituents — he would be well advised to pause and rethink his position.

Like Barrar, I support a transition. Unlike our esteemed state representative, I would consider HB 1329 to be the first step toward the permanent elimination of prevailing wage, an archaic concept that belongs in the dustbin of history.


* * *

I was disappointed to have to run an item yesterday about an apparently false item that ran in a local newspaper — which appeared to have been planted in order to disrupt a small, private fund-raiser by the Kennett Area Democrats at Galer Estate Winery.

I won’t go into detail about how the item made it into print — the publication in question has struggled with getting facts right for some time now, a more glaring recent example being getting the results of the Unionville-Chadds Ford school board elections wrong — but I do have a few thoughts about this seeming political dirty trick.

First off, although the word on the street (and at least one published item in a more reputable publication) suggests that the item was submitted to the newspaper in question by “Republicans.”

Now, knowing them, I don’t think this was something done by Val DiGiorgio and the Chester County Republican Party — they’re entirely too professional in my experience to do something this amateurish. And frankly, it’s the kind of thing that has a lot of blow back potential without a lot of benefit, to be honest. Already, the whispers are suggesting a rogue element may be behind this.

But this was something that goes well beyond the casual lawn sign theft that we all too often see in local politics. This could have seriously hurt a couple of local business people — the Galers. Aside from the fact that the Galers have been exceptionally generous to the community with donations and support for community more causes than I can even begin to list, since when is it OK to hurt a local business just for some very minor political gain?

As I’m fairly sure this represents some sort of violation of Pennsylvania’s election laws, I’m calling on Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan to fully investigate this matter, both how this “fake” news was delivered and published and that those responsible be found and punished.

There’s no excuse for this sort of behavior and would hope that people of all political stripes in this county can agree that it should not be tolerated.

* * *

Even though it seems like March just started, a number of major events are just around the corner in April, but here’s a couple I wanted to remind you of:

Pocopson Elementary’s annual Art & Garden event takes place on April 21. The day kicks off with a trail run at 9:30 a.m. (9 a.m. registration), followed by a full day of fun activities, including expanded games and activities. As always there will be many items for sale and as part of the silent auction, the annual craft fair and so much more.

For more information, go to the school’s Website: pes.ucfsd.org

That same night, is the annual UCFSD Family Pasta Dinner, which raises money for the United Way of Chester County. Last year’s event raised some $13,800. In addition to the excellent food, some of which is prepared by district students, there are the always popular auction events, a number of which have featured school district employees offering their services in exchange for charitable donations.

* * *

This is one of my favorite times of year, that is the time of year that we begin to hear the sharp crack of baseballs and softballs coming off bats in the brilliant March sunshine. As a few of you know, I’ve been lucky enough to spend time writing about baseball professionally at a couple of different points in my life. While I could, and did, tire of writing about contract fights, agents and drug testing, I never lost my love for the game itself.

For the third straight year, I’m lucky enough to be coaching a youth team. The last two years, I coached softball, this year, it’s baseball. Aside from the very obvious benefit of getting me out from behind my desk (and after a couple of practices my not quite 48-year-old muscles are feeling it), I never fail to learn from teaching kids.

Play ball!

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