I was reviewing some bid specs the other day. A good piece of work that would keep my planting crew working past the tree planting season, and bring in some much needed dollars to the Tree Foundation. And then I saw…”contractor must pay employees prevailing wage”…
Prevailing wage for a landscaper in NJ is…drum roll please…$51.60 per hour! Really. You must pay a laborer $30.85/hr. + $20.75/hr. fringe if that worker does not receive fringe benefits. My tree planting crew works 8-10 weeks at best. They are hired from Logan Hall in Newark, NJ – a halfway house (don’t imagine a large Victorian home. Logan Hall is an institution where men are housed 6 to a room). We hire a new crew each spring and each fall. This is a re-entry program for men under parole supervision. And yet, if I want to bid on this contract (and many other contracts in NJ) I must pay these men $51.60/hr. Besides sports figures and CEOs, who makes that kind of money? And don’t forget, our tax dollars are paying for this outrageous wage. So, instead of a park maintenance job costing the county $10,000, it will cost five times that amount!
The Tree Foundation pays the tree planting crew the same wage that other landscapers pay their crews. Because we are a non-profit, we do not get the tax breaks or training stipends that a for-profit company can take advantage of for hiring a man with a criminal record. So, why do we do it? Because it works. Because the men work hard for us and leave parole with money in their pockets. They can get an apartment, buy groceries, and find a job with the money they have made working for the Tree Foundation. It is the right thing to do. And I get to meet some interesting characters.
By bidding on a contract that insists I pay each crewman $51.60/hour, am I not feeding from the same trough that has bankrupt New Jersey? I would love to hear your thoughts.