The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, July 10, 2015

Signature takers are likely to say anything to get names

By The Building Tradesman



Petition signature gatherers who are stationed across Michigan this summer - asking registered voters to sign a petition intended to repeal the Prevailing Wage Act of 1965 - are likely just as ignorant about the law as the general public.

But that probably won't stop them from collecting the necessary 252,523 signatures – 3 percent of the state’s voting population – to put prevailing wage repeal legislation before the Michigan Legislature for a vote. The petition sponsors are trying to go around a likely veto by Gov. Rick Snyder, who has said he doesn’t support prevailing wage repeal. But Snyder would not be able to exercise a veto under this plan.

A few commenters on the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council Facebook page described their experience with the petition signature seekers, who are almost certainly paid for their efforts by the same big money backers who successfully got right-to-work adopted in Michigan.

Said one Facebook commenter: "The person who asked us to sign the petition was either mislead about its purpose or flat out lying about it. His spin and description was pretty awful and very confusing so I asked to review the language. I hope people aren't falling for that."

Wrote another: "I ran into one of those today...when I told the circulator what it was for, she was very upset... she didn't know that it was union-busting, was told that it was about fair bidding. The truth needs to be put out."

And another: "I was approached yesterday to sign. The guy was very vague, said it would save schools money. I said what is it, let me read it. He had the proposal buried under the signature sheets. I made him dig it out. After I saw it, I said no thanks, I'm union!! Very dishonest, sneaky man."

Michigan's prevailing wage law, and those of other states, assure that local "prevailing" wages are paid on taxpayer funded construction projects. Such laws are easily dumbed-down by critics - "they cost taxpayers," "they're a paperwork burden on contractors," or "let the free market decide" are likely used to describe why the law should be repealed.

But study after study (see the front page article for the latest) has shown that eliminating prevailing wage doesn't save taxpayers anything, and has numerous negative downstream affects, like lowering worker wages, reducing tax income and money that's spread around communities, less funding for worker training, and ultimately, making construction projects less safe.

Here are just a few more academic examples:

*Unionized construction worker wages can expect to fall by 10 percent when a state's prevailing wage law is repealed, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.

*A University of Illinois study from earlier this year (a state where repeal has been proposed) found that states with prevailing wage laws maintained an average fatal work-related injury rate of 10.82 deaths per 100,000 full-time construction workers from 2008-2010. States with no prevailing wage requirements experienced an average fatal injury rate of 12.12 deaths per 100,000 workers during the same time frame.

*If Wisconsin proceeds with prevailing wage repeal efforts in that state in 2015, "it can expect to spend 2 percent more on materials and fuel and get 7 percent less in productivity, as its workforce dynamics shift from higher skilled craftsman and more automation to a greater reliance on lower skilled workers. These factors would, by themselves, more than exhaust any savings realized from imposing lower wages," according to researchers at Colorado State University and Smart Cities Prevail.

The sponsor of the petition effort to repeal prevailing wage, "Protecting Michigan Taxpayers," is the same group with rich sponsors who funded the effort to make Michigan a right-to-work state in 2012. More than one month into the signature-gathering effort, they haven't disclosed how many signatures they have obtained. The front of the petition says that effort is to repeal the Prevailing Wage Act of 1965 - which most of the public has never heard of - but the back of the petition is 1,036 words of legalese.

"We're frankly hoping that anybody who is approached to sign will be turned off by all the words on the petition, and walk away," said Patrick Devlin, secretary-treasurer of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council. "Hopefully people won't sign what they don't understand, although I'd bet those signature gatherers would say anything to meet their quotas."

Building trades union members and supporters are asked to do three things:

1) Don't sign the petition.

2) If you spot a petition signature gatherer, call the Michigan Building Trades Council's Decline to Sign Hotline, (855) 517 9437 and follow the prompts.

3) Contact your state senator or House representative and ask him or her not to vote for it when the petition drive is over. Go to www.michiganbuildingtrades.org to find your lawmaker.