Prevailing Wage Repeal Foes Play Veterans Card, Again

In July 2015, Governor Scott Walker signed into law a partial repeal of the state’s repealing wage lifting the requirement for local projects around the state. With the newly announced 2017-19 biennial Wisconsin state budget, Walker now hopes to see the Republican-led state legislature to fully repeal the state’s prevailing wage law.

Prevailing wage laws; a relic of the New Deal, come into play with government contracting for things such as road projects and many transportation projects, often leading to inflated spending and higher costs to the taxpayer. Not surprisingly, this renewal in seeing Wisconsin fully repeal its prevailing wage law has also meant the return of organizations and lobbyists opposed to full repeal.

One of the organizations pushing back hard against prevailing wage repeal has been the construction trade unions, which have universally benefited from prevailing wage laws. In recent months, Media Trackers has tracked this opposition in the form of the Construction Business Group (CBG) and a newly-formed American Legion post few had ever heard of before. So it wasn’t much of a surprise when shortly after Governor Walker’s most recent budget address that these two organizations would issue press releases in tandem with each other.

First the state commander of the American Legion, questioned the inclusion of the prevailing wage measure:

“We are equally confused by the governor’s support for the complete repeal of Wisconsin’s Prevailing Wage law, which uses federally-set wage rates for state building projects. The Wisconsin American Legion Executive Committee adopted a Resolution at our recent Midwinter Conference calling for the State Legislature to adopt measures to ensure that veterans receive employment preference for work on State, County and Municipal contracts at wages equal to or above the local market rate as established by Federal wage standards.

This was followed a day or so later, the construction trade unions saluted the Legion in their own release.

Last week, the Wisconsin American Legion issued a press release making it clear that Governor Walker’s budget proposal to repeal Wisconsin’s prevailing wage laws will negatively impact Veterans. The Building Trades applaud the Wisconsin American Legion for its support of family-sustaining wages for Wisconsin Veterans.

So why the sudden interest in the prevailing wage by the Legion in Wisconsin; especially when it’s nowhere the national Legion’s legislative radar?

“That’s because there’s an effort among some to push Veterans’ groups to the Left or push for the Left’s point of view,” says Dan Caldwell, Director of Policy at Concerned Veterans of America. “That clearly seems to be what’s happening here. Vets often make for some of the most creditable advocates, so they’re brought in to act as unimpeachable character witnesses to a policy.”

“But what’s happening there in Wisconsin might be a first,” continued Caldwell. “Obviously, this could be a decision of the state chapter, because we’ve never seen an American Legion chapter care about the prevailing wage like this before.”

One thing Caldwell expressed serious doubt on, was the data being used to back up many of the claims being made by the American Legion and the CBG – that prevailing wage laws hurt veterans.

“The numbers these guys are using are not tracked by the Department of Veterans Affairs,” said Caldwell. “If I were to take a guess, I’d say they were using survey findings they did of union members. Numerous studies have shown that prevailing wage laws actually hurt most younger veterans because when you have inflated salaries, this leads to less money to hire new workers. If you’re already in the union, then you’ve got it made under a prevailing wage law.”