Who wins with prevailing wage?
August 3, 2013



An article in last Wednesday's City Pulse reveals that nearly all the candidates in Tuesday's primary are defenders of prevailing wage.

Virg Bernero "says an indication of his support for prevailing wage" is that "the city is in the process of appealing a Circuit Court decision . . . from November that struck down its prevailing wage ordinance, which applies the standard to city-funded construction projects." Mayoral candidate Harold Leeman Jr. agrees that the matter should be worked out in advance if tax incentives are involved. (Whatever that means.)

Among the at-large candidates, Kathie Dunbar and Brian Jeffries support prevailing wage. Jeffries is "looking for consensus between business and labor." (Good luck with that.) Judi Brown Clarke "sees the Council’s role as one of a 'mediator' between business and labor." (I don't quite see how that would work.) Keith Smith says such requirements should be a ““mutual agreement” between the two sides. (Does that mean no prevailing wage if the contractor doesn't want it?)

Fourth ward candidate Chong-Anna Canfora says “I strongly support prevailing wage.” Her opponent Jessica Yorko says "prevailing wage is important for preventing a 'race to the bottom' when it comes to wages."

Only Bert Carrier Jr., a 4th Ward candidate, comes out clearly against prevailing wage. "[H]e . . . prefers a “free-market approach,” which means “aggressively” bidding out projects and that 'prevailing wage shouldn’t be the No. 1 factor that the city’s looking at when trying to bring development into the city.'

As I see it, there are four groups who either gain or lose with a prevailing wage requirement:

  1. There is the union contractor who gets the job by bidding lower than other union contractors. He does just fine.

  2. There is the non-union contractor whose employees are paid less than the prevailing wage and therefore excluded from the bidding process. He loses, as do his employees, who are out of work or working at a wage even less than they would have got had this contractor's low bid been accepted.

  3. There are the people of Lansing, along with the people who work in Lansing, who either pay more taxes or get poorer city services because of the premium paid to that union contractor.

  4. And there are the city politicians who win the support of organized labor by embracing prevailing wage requirements. Union support is great for a politician to have because unions make campaign contributions and they have access to their membership and can at least attempt to guide their votes.

So far in this election, 4th ward candidate Chong-Anna Canfora is the only one to get contributions from union PACs. See campaign contribution details for all candidates here.


Here is the City's prevailing wage ordinance:


  206.18. - Prevailing wage and benefit standards prescribed.
    (a) No contract, agreement or other arrangement for construction on behalf of the City and involving mechanics and laborers, including truck drivers of the contractor and/or subcontractors, employed directly upon the site of the work, shall be approved or executed by the City unless the contractor and his or her subcontractors furnish proof and agree that such mechanics and laborers so employed shall receive at least the prevailing wages and fringe benefits for corresponding classes of mechanics and laborers, as determined by statistics compiled by the United States Department of Labor and related to the Greater Lansing area by such Department.
    (b) Any person, firm, corporation or business entity, upon being notified that it is in violation of this section and that an amount is due to his, her or its employees, shall have 30 days from the date of the notice to pay the deficiency by paying such employee or employees, whichever is appropriate, the amounts due. If the person, firm, corporation or business entity fails to pay within the 30-day period, he, she or it shall be subject to the penalty provided in Section 206.99
    (c) The provisions of this section shall be inserted in all bid documents requiring the payment of prevailing wages.
    (d) The enforcement agency for this section shall be as determined by the Mayor.

Lansing's prevailing wage law is currently "in limbo" according to this article in the City Pulse.