Charleston, WV - On Feb. 12, my fellow lawmakers and I voted to override Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s vetoes of Senate Bill 1, the Workplace Freedom Act (also referred to as the right-to-work bill), and House Bill 4005, repealing the state’s prevailing wage laws. I believe these two bills will go a long way to making our economy and state government better for everyone who lives in West Virginia.
As we came into session this year, we were facing two significant challenges that needed addressed: a state economy in freefall and a budget with large deficits that need filled. It was clear we were going to need to take bold steps to right our ship of state and get things moving in the right direction again. And that is what I believe we’ve done here.
Some have accused us of waging a “War on Workers” with these votes, and I believe nothing could be further from the truth. With these votes, my fellow lawmakers and I set out to send a signal that West Virginia is open for business and committed to responsible government.
Unfortunately, there certainly is evidence that there is a war on workers – but it is not from your state lawmakers. The West Virginia Coal Association reports direct coal mining employment has dropped from 23,000 in 2008 to 14,000 in 2014 – a loss of 9,000 good-paying coal jobs. Manufacturing employment in West Virginia has declined by 16,000 from 2003 to 2013.
In the construction sector, West Virginia ranks 51st out of the 50 states and District of Columbia with relation to employment, with nearly 8,000 construction jobs lost from June 2012 to July 2015. And union membership, which was at around 100,000 strong in 2010, declined by 27,000 to 73,000 by the end of 2014.
As you know, much of these employment declines, particularly in the coal sector, are the direct result of President Barack Obama’s War on Coal, which has not only caused layoffs in the mines, but all those other businesses that rely on the coal industry as well.
These job losses have crippled our state and busted our budget, and that’s why we took swift action this year to adopt policies that have shown to boost economic growth in other states.
We also carefully studied these measures before they were put into place. A study by West Virginia University found that adopting a right-to-work policy in West Virginia would “substantially boost overall employment and output growth in the long run” while having virtually no impact on wages.
Some people also say the right-to-work law will hurt unions, but I don’t think that’s the case. The law simply says that no person can be forced to join and pay dues to a union as a condition of their employment. It does not forbid them from doing so. If a union is responsive to their members, represents and treats them well, and provides proper benefits, I think many workers will feel that is a worthwhile expense and remain with the union. All this law does is give people the freedom to choose to partake in that benefit. And given our state’s long history of vibrant, strong unions, I think most workers will choose to continue that strong tradition.
Meanwhile, our repeal of the state’s prevailing wage rates will also help the government manage its finances and get the most bang from the taxpayers’ buck.
While it’s important to have good-paying jobs with benefits on public projects, we have to ensure we are not paying wages that are far in excess of what is being paid in the free market.
Unfortunately, we’ve seen this was the case under the old prevailing wage system – this survey-based system artificially inflated many wage rates well beyond what private employers pay. In fact, a legislative study conducted last year during the three-month period in which the prevailing wage rates lapsed found that two school projects saved a combined $2.4 million on their final bids compared to the pre-bid estimates after the prevailing wage rates were lifted. That’s more than $1 million in savings per school.
I believe once the prevailing wage repeal takes hold statewide, we’ll see many more cost savings on public projects. That will free up additional resources that can be funneled to more projects – meaning more schools, more sewer and water system upgrades, and better infrastructure for all. Also, more projects will mean more jobs overall, so this will benefit workers in West Virginia.
With more than half of the legislative session behind us, I feel we’ve taken major steps to improve the business and government climate here in West Virginia. I think the legislation we’ve passed so far will go a long way to creating a better place to live for generations to come.
Scott Cadle is a Republican representing the 13th House of Delegates District, which covers portions of Jackson, Mason and Putnam counties. He lives in Letart, Mason County.