No sooner did we release research documenting the iron grip of Pennsylvania’s labor unions on the commonwealth’s taxpayers than they obliged us with a case-in-point on union bullying tactics. Some 40 “concerned taxpayers“—disgruntled construction workers—turned up outside House Majority Whip Stan Saylor’s office in York protesting very basic reforms to state law that would allow local governments to use taxpayer funds more efficiently.
One of the reforms? Raising the threshold for “prevailing wage” projects from $25,000 (the unchanged 1960s level) to $185,000 (adjusted for inflation). Pennsylvania’s 1961 prevailing wage law mandates that a community’s “prevailing wage” be paid on publicly funded projects of $25,000 and higher. In practice, the “prevailing wage” is the union-inflated rate found in collective bargaining agreements. On average, it is 51 percent higher than what we pay in the private sector for identical construction of equal quality.
You wouldn’t know it to hear the picketers outside Rep. Saylor’s office. “Cutting the wages of hard working taxpayers is not fair” their flyer proclaimed, singling out Rep. Saylor’s $80,000 salary as further evidence of unfairness. But Rep. Saylor is right: It isn’t fair for taxpayers to pay extra in prevailing wage for no added benefit. While one carpenter claimed his salary was still only “two-thirds of the big-city pay,” carpenters on prevailing wage projects in York County still get paid 19 percent more than those working on private projects. And York’s prevailing wage for other workers—plumbers, electricians, roofers, and others—ends up 50 percent higher than the regular occupational wage.
Prevailing wage reform—and the other efforts Rep. Saylor supports—will ensure taxpayer dollars are not wasted. We’re already facing a four-alarm fire with our budget. Unions won’t tolerate even the slightest spending reforms: Evidence, yet again, that Pennsylvania’s taxpayers are in their grip.