Battle over prevailing wage in Pennsylvania House

A package of Republican bills in the Pennsylvania state house would weaken the “prevailing wage” law.   That law boosts pay on public construction projects. There is some debate on how much money the changes would save.

For 50 years, Pennsylvania’s prevailing wage law has required that workers on publicly funded construction projects get the going rate for the area and those rates end up being union rates.  

Republican sponsors say they aren’t out to end the practice, but want to want to update the statute, exempting smaller projects, allowing school districts to opt out, and making other technical adjustments.

Steven Herzenberg of the Keystone Research Center says studies show that cutting wages results in hiring less qualified workers who take longer to do the job..

“You can pay them poorly but they’re not very productive, so when you take that lower road path, what you end up with is not saving any money on public construction, but you do destroy some middle class jobs,” said Herzenberg.

Sponsors say measures will save cash-strapped school districts money. The bills now go the full house for consideration.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.