Friday, December 23, 2005

NWA Construction Wages Depressed by Illegals?

I was talking to a friend in South Arkansas the other day. What he told me was quite a shock....
By Mark Moore (click "comments" below for rest of story).


Blogger Mark Moore (Moderator) said...

He is a subcontractor for electrical services with many electricians on his payroll. Everyone "knows" that the South Arkansas economy is stagnent while NWA is "the world's largest construction site" with a booming economy. Right? And don't all the textbooks teach us that increased demand for a certain trade will drive up wages? Of course it does.

I asked him why he did not get in on some of the action in NWA, since he bids jobs all over. What he said shocked me. "I can get $21.50 an hour for electricians down here, and Tulsa. In NWA the most I can get is $14.50 per hour."

How can it be that an area with the highest demand has the lowest wages? I have a reasonable guess. One thing his area lacks is a large supply of illegal aliens to force wages down. Of course, there are lots of other social costs to be paid for having a lot of illegal aliens in your midst, but since the construction firms are passing that cost on to the taxpayer, what do they care?

If anyone has a better explanation of why electricians wages would be lower in NWA than South Arkansas, please let us know.

8:58 AM, December 23, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I call bull crap on this one. Electricians are required to be licensed to work in Arkansas. Furthermore, the license process requires passing the board exam.

You can not be licenced in Arkansas if you are an illegal. And believe me, that issue is enforced with extreme seriousness up here these days.

The prices are not typically lower here for electricians, though the price has fallen since there has been more and more contractors and building construction workers have moved into our area.

It is a simple law of supply and demand. In other areas, electricians see that there will not be alot of long term demand so they move to another region. Those few electricians that choose to stay in that area experience decreased competition and can increase thier rates.

There was a labor lag in NWA for several years which created abnormally high wages, this led to the current surge of electrical contractors which has somewhat depressed the wages. However, I have already noticed a renewed upswing in the price I have to pay for my electrical contractors.

It is true that a few (and I mean a very few... because we, the competing contractors, rat the scumbags out) unethical contractors use illegal aliens for unskilled labor and jobs like roofing or sheetrock. The trade skills are rarely even performed by LEGAL immigrants, to say that illegals are driving down the wages of the trades is ridiculous.

In fact, I found that most of the tradesmen enjoy cheap unskilled labor present on a jobsite as assistants because it means they don't have to do menial tasks that they would otherwise be doing themselves if the cost of labors is too high.

Another reason is that the contractors in this area have now grown large enough and created an economy of scale efficient enough that general contractors and owners can and do expect to benefit from the resulting lower prices. Other rural or depressed areas do not have this economic pressure.

The current crop of labors on most of the sites I have been on are almost always LEGAL immigrant who desire to learn a trade. Contrast that to when I was in high school. Most of us on the job site were white kids looking to build a career in the same way. What are the white kids doing today? Certainly not something that doesn't have air conditioning and requires hard work. They would prefer to work at McDonalds, "until they go to college".

I can hardly get a white high schooler to work on a jobsite these days. They all think they should be "managers" and can't even "manage" to get themselves to work every day. I won't even talk about being on time or reliably actually doing the job they are being paid to do unless I watch them constantly.

Your post is nothing more than politically motivated hate-mongering. There is enough reason to condemn and oppose illegal immigration without spreading lies and stirring up angry passions. In my opinion, doing that is not a very Christian attitude.

2:49 PM, December 23, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't mean to debate the finer points of Arkansas' electrical codes, but I know plenty of electricians who simply give a "thumbs up" to non-licensed apprentices who do most of the grunt work.

4:23 PM, December 23, 2005  
Blogger Mark Moore (Moderator) said...

Well, I asked if there was a better explanation out there, and you gave a good one, so I thank you for that.

I still need a bit more convincing. Especially since you mentioned that "most of the tradesmen enjoy cheap unskilled labor present on a jobsite as assistants". For electricians isn't there a 2/1 ratio (a pity that the law was changed to make the ratio so low if you ask me. That drives up cost more than this other stuff.)?

Could the "cheap unskilled labor" that each electrician is supervising be part of the price difference? Or by unskilled do you mean below even the apprentice or journeyman level?

Legal immigrants have every right to learn a trade. Good for them and for us. However I know for a fact that the use of illegals in the construction industry is common. My customers have told me how it is done- including how to have a layer of insulation with a legal immigrant between the contractor and the workers so that their hands are "clean".

As for your concerns about the work ethic and toughness of the next generation, I am a bit worried myself. Good hard work in one's youth is just a part of forming character in a young man IMHO. I hope that we are not over-sheltering them in some ways (while not sheltering them enough in others).

As for your accusations that I am "hate-mongering" and "spreading lies" and having "not a very Christian attitude" as well as "stirring up angry passions". I hope that I am not doing any of those things. I am trying to have a rational discussion about the economic effects of illegal-immigration, and wondering if the cited example fits. I don't think I can keep up with you in terms of accusations-per-minute, so I will just have to let the readers be the judge of where the "angry passions" on this thread are coming from.

4:33 PM, December 23, 2005  
Anonymous Harvey Edwards for State Representative said...

Your post is nothing more than politically motivated hate-mongering.
When you bring things to lite this is usually the kind of response you get. I would like to hear from others down here in the delta lands of Southeast Arkansas. Where it is all about who can be hired at the cheapest rate. Where Blanche Lincoln says the Immigrants are indespensable to our needs. Where folks like me with a degree or any education cannot get a job equal to our skills. I for one am not going to take the illegals crumbs therefore I am unemployed. I work my ass off but will not stand quietly while others say it is only political. It is wrong for our State to sell us out. I welcome any State or federal politician to deny anything I say. So far no takers. Pass this on to any official and see if he or she will deny it.
PS Thanks moderator for bringing up my first issue for the Delta.

4:47 PM, December 23, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr Moore said:
As for your accusations that I am "hate-mongering" and "spreading lies" and having "not a very Christian attitude" as well as "stirring up angry passions". I hope that I am not doing any of those things. I am trying to have a rational discussion about the economic effects of illegal-immigration, and wondering if the cited example fits.

Based upon the tone of your response, I believe you and owe you an apology. I, hereby, do so and hope that you accept.

My sensitivity to this is heightened because of how often contractors get blamed or as Mr. Edwards does - vaguely maligned without evidence or proof.

Mr Moore said:
Could the "cheap unskilled labor" that each electrician is supervising be part of the price difference? Or by unskilled do you mean below even the apprentice or journeyman level?

By "unskilled" I was typically refering to those below the journeyman level. The apprentice level is not a licensure level and typically only refers to a relatively unskilled worker who aspires to become a journeyman and is recording qualifications. Nonetheless, this position is still requires registration with the state board. I highly doubt that an illegal could sucessfully register with the state without extreme risk of being caught. The state boards take this stuff seriously and don't mess around with stuff that may endanger the safety of the public. The scandal would be enough that alot of heads would roll.

There are some difference in how bids are itemized for the larger type contracts up here in NWA these days. It used to be that the electrican was bid as "slot" that may include an electrician and an accompanying laborer. This is still how it is done in some areas of the state. I am not sure, but this may explain the $7 difference your friend described. It would be almost exactly what a new apprentice would make. (Price is higher for those nearing journeyman level.) The 14.50 price is generally a minimum that you will see for a journeyman up fact if I could get one for that I would have a celebration. Master electricians up here are snatching down more than $30/hour.I know of a very good one that works for design build firm and makes six figures in a year.

Even on the residential construction side of things I highly doubt much impact on wages by illegals because contractors are a pretty cut-throat bunch and are not about to tolerate someone else getting a competitive advantage.

Am I saying that the use of some illegals doesn't happen? No, but I am saying that if I knew about anyone doing it I would be the first in line screaming it from the mountain tops. Not because I am all that concerned with illegals, but because of the simple fact that I have a dime in that nickel and am not very keen on losing contracts because I have been undercut in the bidding process.

7:26 PM, December 23, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can tell you why there is such a huge pay difference between here and Tulsa. We have built 3 homes on our own in NWA. You can find workers here without any problem. They are a dime a dozen. When we lived in Tulsa we also looked into buiding our own home, but you can't do it there. You cannot find the workers. They are all tied up with contractors. Tulsa doesn't have the workers that we have here. Of course they'll get a premium there because they know you have to pay it. Here you have plenty to choose from, so they compete for the work.

7:49 PM, December 23, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr Edwards,

A man with your experience (Navy Officer right?)would likely be employed in a heartbeat if you were willing to move to where the work is and DO what the work is.

You said:
Where folks like me with a degree or any education cannot get a job equal to our skills. I for one am not going to take the illegals crumbs therefore I am unemployed.

You are obviously not raised like I was. My daddy taught me to take whatever work I could get, then move up from there. He told me that NO job is beneath you except no JOB, he is right. Any job is one in which I work as unto the Lord. These hands spent alot of time covered in chicken blood on the eviseration line or frozen stiff and aching from hours on the grading line.

I have very little sympathy for anyone unemployed in this state when you could have a job TOMORROW making as much as $10 an hour doing what I did for $3.65/hr back in the day.

No one has sold you out, you have sold yourself out by thinking that you are too good for some forms of work. The truth is rather than take work that you may or may not be too good for, you are opting for something that anyone is indeed to good for - unemployment

8:04 PM, December 23, 2005  
Anonymous Mark M said...

I gladly accept. I want reasoned debate, not vitriol and rancor.

If your business ever slows, you might want to take a closer look at some of your competitors. I mean even one of the most competent companies on Earth, Wal-Mart, had to recently shut down construction sites for their stores when it was discovered that their crews were staffed with illegals (this was not in our state).

IN OUR STATE, when the INS made a rare raid at a Petit Jean poultry plant in Texarkana, entire shifts disapeered. The workers used stolen SS#s and forged identities (which can ruin people's credit and worse). The poultry plant even got most of the workers from the state employment security division!

If our own state government resources are being mis-used in this way, I find it highly improbable that the construction industry is untainted. It is not because guys like you are somehow worse than anyone else- but rather it is a combination of a few bad contractor apples tainting the barrel along with a sophisticated false-ID system for illegal immigrants that the governments of both countires are aiding or turning a blind eye to.

9:39 PM, December 23, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To the person who mentions a comparison with Tulsa, it is simple. A Union labor area vs. a right to work area.

NWA doesn't go for the union entitlement mentality that Tulsa and many isolationist, anti-immigrant, Pat Buchanan types. This pro-business, anti-labor sentiment is what keeps NWA growing, vibrant and one of the fastest growing areas in AMERICA.

7:48 AM, December 24, 2005  
Blogger Mr. Toast said...

It is SO lame and tiresome hearing the race card played everytime someone mentions the elephant in the room: illegal aliens. It's a tactic of communists and liberals to attempt to shut down all debate by trite name-calling. And you think some should apologize for sharing political space with Buchanan. How does it feel to have Al Franken as your mentor?

10:55 AM, December 24, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

but South Arkansas is also "right to work" and less unionized- but they still have the higher construction wages according to the post. Post number 2 gave several good possible reasons, but it is hard to deny that NWA has lots of "recent arrivals" in the business while South Ark does not.

NWA is growing because Wal-mart vendors and others are bringing money into the area and that creates more wealth. Illegals send money OUT of the area- Mexico's largest source of foriegn dollars is expatriates sending money they earned in the USA back to Mexico.

Using illegals may be the way for a few folks to make a fast buck, but it is not the foundation for lasting prosperity. This is so obviously true that I can't believe you are taking that position and I hope I am just not reading you right.

1:12 PM, December 24, 2005  
Anonymous Harvey Edwards said...

To anonymous, I have worked every job imaginable and I do accept below my standards. I have for most of my adult life worked two jobs at a time to support a family. Heck I have driven taxi cabs in Japan for diaper money. What you say about accepting any jobs is way off mark. You just try moving to the Delta and compete with the established crowd. And the reference to anyone just going to where the work is is bull. I have worked in every State and all the worlds continents. But now I am home and I shouldnt have to run away to feed a family. I have never been a quitter and I resent anyone who thinks money is more valuable than family values and home. If everyone thought that way there wouldnt be anyone left down here except the illegals.Do you get my point. If you were to use a regular name with an e mail I could show you the things I will do for a living. I will not leave home , I will make it better for others

7:35 PM, December 24, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of the benefits for businesses and corporations in right-to-scab states is that they can fire employees for any reason or no reason. Looks like employees can also be fired for unpopular images in and on their vehicles. Is this a great country, or what?

10:13 AM, December 29, 2005  
Blogger Mr. Toast said...

Interesting article. Though it sounds like he was canned for the hanged Mexican effigy rather than the confederate flag as the headline would have us believe. However, it doesn't sound like he provoked anyone beyond having it visibly displayed in his truck.

The case is still pending; he may yet make them pay for his firing.

My advice is don't work at Tyson or other employers that jerk around their employees. I prefer a right to work state.

11:26 AM, December 29, 2005  
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