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Wage Attacks Ignore Important Context for Why Skilled Workers are Paid What They’re Paid

In response to a Seattle Times article that looked into Boeing’s plan to capture an extra $100 million annually by transferring 1,100 jobs from their Puget Sound facility to a “Right-to-Work” state, Mill Creek, Washington, resident and union carpenter Ed Armstrong penned an impassioned defense of prevailing wages and skilled labor. In “Quality Workers are Worth Paying For,” Armstrong explains how anti-union resentment creates a negative, local trickle-down effect and is ageist. Speaking specifically about the jobs that could be lost in Puget Sound, Armstrong waxes nostalgic:

These are jobs that up until now, have been held down by our friends and neighbors, most of whom have worked loyally for years, decades and in some cases, a working lifetime for an employer who profited fairly from their labor and was heretofore, loyal to them as well. This move, for which Boeing is willing to spend $150 million, has the added benefit of being able to dump some older workers (aka “deadwood” ) without the risk of age discrimination charges.

He also breaks down how wages are calculated and why certain industries, such as construction, earn more. He provides a picture that is more complete than a passing admonishment of union labor ever does:

Firstly, remember that the mandated prevailing wage is the combined amount of wages and benefits (health and welfare, pension and apprenticeship training). Non-union contractors working on mandated projects are required to pay the full amount per hour, since most do not offer benefit packages. Apprenticeship is another part of the equation, most of us spent several years (four in my case) in apprentice training at lower rates of pay. The higher paid trades require longer apprenticeships. Another factor is that of ongoing employment opportunities. For the building trades, steady work is almost non-existent, economic conditions as well as seasonal restraints hamper our ability to stay busy. Even in a strong economy, working nine months out of 12 is considered a “good year” by most craftspeople and in a financial downturn, construction is usually the first thing to go and the last to come back.

Longevity is something else to be considered. Still able to work at age 64, I have outlasted most of my contemporaries by years. Many in our industry are forced into early retirement by injury or debilitating illnesses such as arthritis caused or exacerbated by years of working in inclement weather. And sadly, far too many of our fellows go to work one day and don’t come home. Despite the best efforts of employers and workers alike, construction sites are by their nature, dangerous places to work.

Read Armstrong’s convincing op-ed in its entirety here.

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