McConnell Campaigns for Low Wages


June 30, 2014


The United States’ transportation infrastructure is in desperate need of massive federal investment to rebuild crumbling roads and bridges.


One of the worst examples is the Brent Spence Bridge, which connects Cincinnati and Covington, Ky., across the Ohio River.

Pieces of the double-decker bridge began falling on crossing vehicles in 2011, causing many commuters and truck drivers to avoid it all together, costing both states millions in lost business. Lawmakers in Kentucky have proposed different ideas for the reconstructing the bridge for years.

Recently, the Bluegrass State’s senior senator, Mitch McConnell, unveiled his own plan: cut construction workers’ wages.

The Republican minority leader announced his bill – the Emergency Interstate Bridge Safety Act -- June 23 in a speech to the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. The legislation won’t provide federal funding to cover the $2.6 billion price tag of a new bridge or help local governments borrow the money.

But it does repeal the Davis-Bacon Act – the federal law requiring contractors receiving public funds to pay the local prevailing wage.

McConnell claims that this will save taxpayer money, but research has shown that repealing prevailing wage does not lower overall construction costs.

“Paying workers less will not lead to lower construction costs because lower wages result in lower labor productivity,” writes University of Utah economist Peter Philips. “Pushing wage rates down to $14 per hour runs the risk of losing skilled and experienced workers, increasing labor turnover, endangering the safety of the job and interrupting the work flow through mistakes and accidents.”

Philips says that abolishing Davis-Bacon would cost Kentucky workers $250 million a year, decreasing tax revenues by $20 million annually.

According a Congressional Budget Office report, McConnell’s plan could end up jeopardizing the quality of public construction by attracting low-skilled, low-paid workers to replace better trained tradesmen.

McConnell has always opposed prevailing wage and introduced legislation last year to repeal Davis-Bacon.

Without any evidence that repealing prevailing wage will secure the funds needed for bridge construction, it’s no wonder that Louisville Business First says McConnell’s plan “falls flat.”