Written by Larry Meadows:
Delegate David Ramadan (R-87) has introduced self-interested, but not necessarily self-written, legislation to the Virginia House of Delegates that would undermine Virginians’ ability to find the American Dream he found when he emigrated to the United States from Lebanon in 1989. The proposed legislation, HB 2395, threatens the livelihoods of laborers employed by or on behalf of the state. HB 2395 would prohibit “state agencies from requiring bidders, offerors, contractors or subcontractors” to pay their employees working on public works the prevailing wage, the hourly wage paid to the majority of workers in a particular industry. States determine the prevailing wage by surveying the wages and benefits employers pay their workers.
The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) notes prevailing wage requirements arose in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to guarantee that “publicly funded construction does not undermine wage standards in local communities.” Requiring employers to pay their employees the prevailing wage guarantees firms will compete for public works contracts on the basis of the skills and acumen they bring to the table. Otherwise, firms would be more likely to compete by trying to pay their labor force as low a wage as they can get away with, thereby threatening wage standards in the community. Economics 101 teaches us that a lower wage rate tends to attract lower-skilled workers. In the long run, then, taxpayers may have to spend more money repairing old public work projects, constraining their ability to fund new ones. In this light, abolishing prevailing wage standards is not only an attack on laborers’ pockets, but on taxpayers’ as well.
Del. Ramadan’s attack on the prevailing wage is not without precedent. Republican Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed similar legislation into law in 2013. Legislative attacks on the prevailing wage, National Employment Law Project (NELP) reports, had been introduced to thirty-one state legislatures by February 2013. NELP contends it is no coincidence that thirty-one state legislatures introduced bills attempting to weaken or prohibit prevailing wage requirements. The bills share more than their disregard for state laborers and taxpayers. They share a common source of inspiration, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
ALEC, according to the organization’s website, is “a forum for state legislators and private sector leaders to discuss and exchange practical, state-level public policy issues.” John Nicols at The Nation cuts through the jargon and describes ALEC for what it is, “a collaboration between multinational corporations and conservative state legislators.” Regardless of what you call it, ALEC is an organization that pushes state-level legislation designed to weaken business regulation in order to increase businesses’ private profits and reduce their public accountability. ALEC does not merely push such legislation. It writes model legislation for its state legislative members to introduce to their respective state legislatures.
Coincidentally, ALEC’s website features model legislation designed to curtail the prevailing wage that bears a strong resemblance to HB 2395. The ALEC legislation, per its own summary, “repeals all laws that require administratively determined employee compensation rates, including wages, salaries, and benefits,” and especially concerns itself with “the efficiency of public investments.” In other words, ALEC’s model legislation would prohibit state agencies (i.e., administrative bodies) from establishing prevailing wage requirements for public works (i.e., public investments). Del. Ramadan’s proposed legislation, then, is, in effect, ALEC’s model legislation.
Del. Ramadan has yet to be exposed as a member of ALEC, but his legislation suggests he is a supporter of the organization’s mission of weakening labor protections, such as the prevailing wage, to increase private sector leaders’ profits. And he has self-interested reason to do so. Del. Ramadan is the founder of RAMA International, Inc., “a consulting firm servicing a small number of clients with customized solutions internationally.” RAMA International touts Del. Ramadan’s extensive consulting experience. “For over twenty years, he managed companies in diverse areas such as franchising, government relations, retail, manufacturing, immigration consulting, law, management and marketing consulting, and import/export in India, the Middle East, and the USA.” Del. Ramadan, then, is no rookie when it comes to collaborating with and working on behalf of multinational corporations.
RAMA International’s website lists “government relations”–in bold font–as one of the services its offers to its clients, while also letting them know “the Honorable David Ramadan” is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates. Could HB 2395 be an extension of RAMA International’s bold government relations services? Whatever Del. Ramadan’s interest in proposing HB 2395, it certainly is not in his constituents’ interests. Unless, of course, Del. Ramadan’s considers his (potential) clients, “private sector leaders” such as himself, his constituents as opposed to those who he is supposed to serve. In that case, ALEC would be proud.