My View: Unions are more than just a parade and candy
By Ron Welte
Posted Sep. 3, 2016 at 2:00 PM
On Labor Day, Rockford United Labor will be hosting its annual Labor Day Parade in downtown Rockford beginning at 10 a.m. from Seventh Street and Sixth Avenue and ending at Davis Park.
Hundreds of proud and dedicated union members and their families will march along the route waving and handing out candy to the onlookers. They are the people that have sworn to protect and serve our community, build and fix our roadways and infrastructure, teach and transport our school children, deliver our freight, construct our buildings, restore our power and telephone service, help the less fortunate, work in our factories and build our cars and trucks.
Their local union leaders serve on various boards and committees, such as Transform Rockford, Alignment Rockford, Chicago/Rockford Airport, Rockford Public Library and United Way. Many members of the Building Trades unions devote thousands of volunteer hours at various community centers and other nonprofit social service agencies on much-needed building projects and construct countless handicap accessible ramps at homes for those that are in desperate need.
Among their current community projects are the Winnebago County 911 Memorial and the complete restoration of the carriage house at the Northern Illinois Community Foundation headquarters — plus, the many other community projects involving neighborhood cleanup and painting/repair work of various homes and social service agencies by other local unions throughout the year, not forgetting that 33 percent of the individual contributors to the 2015 United Way campaign came from Union members.
Our area local unions support education with their financial and "helping hand" support of United Way’s “Success By Six” reading program for schoolchildren in both public and private elementary schools. The Building Trades’ annual Spring Trades Expo invite high-schoolers from around the region to explore other paths to a successful and rewarding career, in lieu of college.
The need for a good education, work ethic and high school/GED diploma is stressed to all those in attendance and that, absent these three requirements, acceptance into an Apprenticeship Program will be difficult. Additionally, ongoing communication occurs with area community activists in the recruiting of minorities and others into a Building Trades career.
Last, but definitely not least, collective bargaining between unions and public/private employers set the standard in the community for wages, workplace safety rules and health care/pension benefits for all workers.
While some individuals proclaim that Prevailing Wage Laws (PWL) are a direct cause for our state budget woes, an independent study jointly conducted by the University of Illinois and Michigan State University strongly points to the contrary. The study shows that any new construction jobs gained in that industry without the existence of a PWL, that any new jobs linked to the repeal would be significantly offset by job losses throughout the rest of the economy, roughly 3,300 net jobs lost.
Also, more than $44 million in lost state and local taxes would be realized and another $116 million lost in federal tax revenue. While employer contributions to worker benefits would dramatically decline, the study outlines that, in all likelihood, total construction costs would not be greatly reduced should a PWL not be in place.
Each year would see seven more construction worker fatalities without a PWL and the facts show that less apprenticeship programs are available in non-PWL states. The negative results are comparable in all eight regions involved in the study. That is why“Strong Unions Build Strong Communities.”
Ron Welte is a retired IBEW Local 15 Business Representative and delegate to Rockford United Labor.
Below is the conclusion such a University of Illinois study. The entire study is available on line at: https://ler.illinois.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/PWL_policy-brief_spreads041.pdf
Findings from this study indicate that Illinois’ prevailing wage law (PWL) is associated with positive labor
market outcomes for construction workers at costs that are either negligible or fully offset. Additional labor
costs associated with the statewide PWL are outweighed by other substantial positive impacts for the state
economy and Illinois taxpayers. In all likelihood, total construction costs would not be greatly affected by repeal
of the PWL due to potential changes in workforce, productivity, and management practices associated with
the policy change. Indeed, repeal of Illinois’ PWL would likely cost the state money, result in job losses, and
reduce construction sector efficiency.
This study forecasts that employment in the construction in-
dustry would likely increase should the statewide PWL be repealed.
However, any new jobs linked to repeal would be significantly off-
set by job losses experienced throughout the rest of the economy.
These indirect effects of repeal would result in about 3,300 net jobs
lost, in a total GDP contraction of more than $1 billion annually for Il-
linois, more than $44 million in lost state and local taxes, and rough-
ly $116 million in lost federal tax revenue. Within the state, the nega-
tive results are comparable for each of the eight regions studied.
If the prevailing wage were to be repealed in Illinois, it is esti-
mated that an additional seven Illinois construction workers would
lose their lives on an annual basis. Extrapolated over the span of a
decade, approximately 70 additional Illinois workers would suffer
fatal work-related injuries in the construction industry due to the
repeal of the state’s PWL. It can also be anticipated that employer
contributions to both legally-required and fringe benefits for con-
struction workers would dramatically decline.
Additionally, the data examined in this study strongly affirms
the claim that state PWLs are supportive of construction appren-
ticeship programs. Study findings suggest that state PWLs sup-
port the construction training system, a critical component for an
industry continually concerned about the availability of sufficiently
Finally, this study finds no substantial evidence that state PWLs are harmful to African-American partici-
pation in the construction industry. Claims that states with PWLs have reduced African-American participation
in construction are based on simplistic analyses which are, at best, descriptive and unconvincing. More ad-
vanced work finds no evidence that PWLs act to the detriment of African-American workers.
In summary, prevailing wages for public construction projects in Illinois provide numerous positive eco-
nomic and social impacts for both construction workers and the state on the whole. This study predicts that
repeal of Illinois’ PWL would not result in savings for taxpayers or the state or lead to increased employment
of African-American construction workers. Rather, repeal of Illinois’ PWL would result in job losses throughout
the state’s economy, increased construction worker fatalities, and declines in valuable social impacts such as
construction worker benefits and training opportunities.