Prevailing Wage Is a Veterans Issue

05/21/2016 01:09 pm ET Updated May 22, 2017

Every May, we honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in our nation's armed forces. Across our country, we'll hear from politicians about the importance of "supporting our troops," and "leaving no veteran behind."

These are great soundbites, but fifteen years removed from 9/11--and in the wake of scandals at the VA, a mental health crisis that claims the lives of 22 veterans every day, and unacceptably high unemployment levels among our newest generation of returning warriors, it's past time to define what this really means. Too often, actions simply don't match the rhetoric.

A prime example of this disconnect is in the debate over State Prevailing Wage laws--rules that effectively establish the minimum wage for skilled construction work.

First established by two Republican US Senators back in the 1930's, and broadly supported by leaders in both political parties until recently, at least eleven states have proposed or considered eliminating their prevailing wage standards in the last two years--including Illinois.

In the debate over these measures, the vast majority of peer-reviewed studies by reputable economists have concluded that prevailing wage laws do not increase public construction costs. These same studies have concluded that prevailing wage laws result in more local hiring, job growth across all economic sectors, safer worksites, higher quality workmanship and productivity, less spending on materials and fuels, and less poverty amongst blue collar construction workers.

Missing entirely from the debate over these laws is who they would impact the most. Military veterans, for example, pursue employment in the construction trades at substantially higher rates than non-veterans.

Even moreso in states with strong prevailing wage laws according to recent research commissioned by VoteVets.org.

This should not be surprising. The military has increasingly focused on promoting skilled apprenticeships to help veterans transitioning to the civilian world, and now provides over 20% of the registered apprenticeships in the country. And the teambuilding, problem solving, and project management skills honed on the battlefield translate well to these occupations.

What simply doesn't translate well is the "support the troops" rhetoric from politicians who are calling to repeal these laws, as they do the bidding of groups affiliated with the Koch Brothers and the trough of bad ideas known as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

A repeal of state prevailing wage laws would be an economic disaster for veterans---costing nearly 65,000 veterans their jobs, nearly 24,000 their employer-based health coverage, and forcing nearly 8,000 Veteran-owned construction businesses to close their door - permanently. It would also impose a $3 billion pay cut on veterans nationwide, and increase the number of veteran construction workers living in poverty by 50 percent.

But that didn't stop the West Virginia legislature from repealing Prevailing Wage earlier this year.

It didn't stop Wisconsin's Governor Scott Walker from signing a prevailing wage repeal that disproportionately affects veterans in his state into law, even as he was campaigning to be our Commander in Chief in 2015.

And it didn't stop Indiana Governor Mike Pence from doing the same thing the year before.

And sadly, it hasn't stopped Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner from advocating repeal in Illinois.

So the next time you hear a politician claim to support the troops, ask him or her if that includes supporting prevailing wage laws.

If it does, you'll know they stand on the side of helping more veterans put their skills to work in their communities and access ladders to the middle class. If it doesn't, we'll all be able to see their rhetoric for what it is: an empty charade.