It’s called the law of unintended consequences. When it comes to government, it refers to unanticipated effects of legislative activity. Economists have long been aware we must heed this law to avoid a domino effect of lousy results from new policies. But, as a Forbes writer once observed, “for just as long, politicians and popular opinion have largely ignored it.”
Consider House Bill 2008, which our state Legislature passed into law in this year’s session. This amendment to current law would seem on the surface to make it easier to do business in the state. But the change drastically lowers requirements for licensure of professional work done by elevator mechanics, crane operators, HVAC, electricians, and plumbers. The upshot? The unintended consequence will mean highly trained West Virginia workers will lose work. Who will get it instead? Fly-by-night, poorly trained operators who appear to talk a good game in coming to work in your home or business.
Then there is Senate Bill 272. This bill relates to the West Virginia Employment Law Worker Classification Act. Just a little streamlining of state laws regarding unemployment? Quite the opposite. It will make it more difficult for West Virginians to file for unemployment if they lose work. It makes it harder to pay for medical care for workers who get sick on the job. Workers could even lose guarantees that they will be paid on time, earn minimum wage or earn overtime pay.
The law of unintended consequences was in full view when our State Legislature ditched our Prevailing Wage Law. Legislators ignored the fact that prevailing wage is a proven economic development tool. They hoped a surge of new business would result. Yet the unintended consequences of a bill slashing the safety net of prevailing wage for workers is now clear to Gov. Jim Justice:
“We got rid of prevailing wage. We changed our corporate taxes, and we’ve done a lot of different things. And we’ve run to the windows, and they haven’t come,” he said early in 2021.
Prevailing wage is the pay rate set by law for public work projects and applies to all laborers, workers, or mechanics. The law requires that these workers be paid – based on a regional survey of rates for their particular level of skill and experience. The law clears the decks of unscrupulous contractors who underbid tax-funded infrastructure projects by cutting wages and doing shoddy work.
The law ensures local workers receive fair wages and benefits and that the contractors who employ them get a fair shot at tax-funded construction projects. The restoration of the Prevailing Wage has clear, intended consequences — stronger families, stronger communities, and a better quality of life for all West Virginians.
Find your West Virginia representatives here and reach out to them to let them know you would like them to reinstate the Prevailing Wage Law.
You can help restore the Prevailing Wage Law by signing the petition. Sign your name, share with your friends, and let’s restore the Prevailing Wage Law to help keep our young people here and move West Virginia forward.