New Study Shows Prevailing Wage Laws Reducing Inequality Gap For African-American Workers

From NH Labor News

Prevailing wage laws reduce income inequality between African-American and white construction workers by as much as 53% and help more blue-collar workers reach the middle class, according to new research by the Illinois Economic Policy Institute (ILEPI) and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Project for Middle Class Renewal.

“While prior research has concluded that there is no relationship between prevailing wage laws and the racial composition of the construction workforce, the data clearly shows that these laws help eliminate income disparities between black and white construction workers,” said study co-author and University of Illinois Professor Robert Bruno. “African Americans employed as laborers, plumbers, pipefitters, electricians, and heavy equipment operators see the largest gains.”

Utilizing publicly-available data from the American Community Survey, the study examined construction worker earnings by race and trade, comparing the results between states with prevailing wage laws and those without. Overall, the researchers found that prevailing wage laws lift the incomes of African American construction workers by an average of 24%, and close the income gap with white workers from 26% to just 12%.

A more advanced analysis controlling for other observable factors found that states which currently do not have a prevailing wage law could reduce income inequality for African-American construction workers by at least 7% if they implemented one.

Based on surveys of local construction employers, prevailing wage laws establish local-market minimum wages for publicly-funded construction projects like roads, bridges, and schools. These projects represent roughly one-third of all output in America’s 4th largest industry, which employs roughly 6.5 million workers.

“A stable minimum wage floor benefits all workers, regardless of race or construction trade,” added study co-author Jill Manzo. “By ensuring similarly-skilled workers performing identical jobs with the same equipment are paid the same, prevailing wage promotes the concept of equal pay for equal work.”

The national Davis-Bacon Act applies prevailing wage standards to most federally-funded construction projects, but projects funded exclusively by state and local governments are not affected unless a state prevailing wage law is also on the books.  Currently, 27 U.S. states have these laws.

The study also used American Community Survey data to track average take-home incomes for the ten largest skilled construction crafts, and compares those figures against the average annual salary of all U.S. workers ($47,258). In states without prevailing wage laws, not a single average skilled craft salary reaches the nationwide average. With prevailing wage, at least two crafts exceed this threshold (operating engineers and electricians), while one other falls just short (plumbers, pipefitters, and related occupations).

“For the largest skilled construction crafts, prevailing wage laws improve incomes by between $1,800 and $12,000 per year,” added study co-author and Illinois Economic Policy Institute Policy Director Frank Manzo IV. “These laws clearly have the effect of reducing poverty and giving more blue-collar workers of all races a chance to join the middle class.”

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Reposted from NH Labor News

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Uber Drivers Deserve Legal Rights and Protections

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

In an advisory memo released May 14, the U.S. labor board general counsel’s office stated that Uber drivers are not employees for the purposes of federal labor laws.

Their stance holds that workers for companies like Uber are not included in federal protections for workplace organizing activities, which means the labor board is effectively denying Uber drivers the benefits of forming or joining unions.

Simply stating that Uber drivers are just gig workers does not suddenly undo the unjust working conditions that all workers potentially face, such as wage theft, dangerous working conditions and  job insecurity. These challenges are ever-present, only now Uber drivers are facing them without the protection or resources they deserve. 

The labor board’s May statement even seems to contradict an Obama-era National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling that couriers for Postmates, a job very similar to Uber drivers’, are legal employees.

However, the Department of Labor has now stated that such gig workers are simply independent contractors, meaning that they are not entitled to minimum wages or overtime pay.

While being unable to unionize limits these workers’ ability to fight for improved pay and working conditions, independent contractors can still make strides forward by organizing, explained executive director of New York Taxi Workers Alliance Bhairavi Desai.

“We can’t depend solely on the law or the courts to stop worker exploitation. We can only rely on the steadfast militancy of workers who are rising up everywhere,” Desai said in a statement. 

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