Opinion: Construction Workers Need Help. In Baltimore County, There’s a Simple Solution

The Baltimore County Courthouse in Towson. Wikipedia photo.

We’ve never seen anything like this.

Almost overnight, hundreds of thousands of our neighbors lost their jobs — through no fault of their own

As Maryland has reopened, we’ve been able to slowly and safely get people back to work. Thanks to Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski, in Baltimore County there’s now an opportunity to support our recovery.

At a time when this global pandemic has led to historic levels of unemployment across our state, we need policies that support construction workers. We literally build the future of our state, and we need people to have our backs.

That’s why we’re glad to see Johnny O moving forward on long-overdue legislation to ensure livable wages are the standard in Baltimore County.

We’ve long seen how prevailing wages protect local labor standards in the construction industry. By establishing a wage floor, prevailing wage laws prevent cutthroat bidding in public construction from leading to a race to the bottom in local wages and benefits. Contractors are forced to compete on the basis of merit, not on the basis of who can assemble the cheapest workforce.

Prevailing wage laws are especially important in states like Maryland, which have a high cost of living. The Baltimore-D.C. Building Trades Unions today represent 28 local unions across the greater region that together stand-up for thousands of our hardest working men and women.

We’ve seen firsthand in Baltimore City, Charles County, Montgomery County, and Prince George’s County, that prevailing wage laws keep blue-collar construction workers from falling behind. These laws help develop and protect the next generation of skilled trades workers by creating incentives for contractors to hire apprentices enrolled in government-sanctioned programs.

Study after study has shown that not only do prevailing wages result in more efficient workers, but safer workplaces too. Communities with prevailing wage laws have substantially lower fatal and nonfatal injury rates in construction. For construction workers working in the midst of a pandemic, when we put our lives on the line every time we leave the house, it’s important to know that we will not only be properly paid for our work, but also be safe while on the job. By rooting out low-road contractors, prevailing wage laws reward contractors that have a greater commitment to workplace safety and worker training.

Prevailing wage laws also stimulate the local economy, because when workers earn more, they spend more and create economic growth through the multiplier effect. At a time when long-term unemployment is at a record high, a prevailing wage law in Baltimore County will go a long way towards mitigating such economic impacts on county residents.

What’s even more important, especially in this pandemic, the proposal Bill 102-20 “Prevailing Wage and Local Hire” also grows job opportunities for local workers, requiring that workers from our communities will be hired to support our communities.

This bill’s prevailing wage requirements coupled with the provisions encouraging contractors to hire county residents will help grow job opportunities for local workers while preserving family-supporting wages. Not only can we put people back to work, but we can put them to work in jobs that pay good wages and put money back into the local economy.

At a time when the COVID-19 economy has decimated local workforces, Johnny O is standing up for Baltimore County workers.

We urge the Baltimore County Council to pass this overdue prevailing legislation and stand up for and with Baltimore County’s construction workers.

Together we can continue to recover from this pandemic’s economic turmoil so that we can build a stronger bridge to the middle class for our families.

— STEPHEN W. COURTIEN

The writer is the president of the Baltimore-D.C. Building Trades Unions.