The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, September 04, 2015

Anti-prevailing wage petitioners 'beating the time frame,' ABC says

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor



LANSING - A spokesman for the group behind the effort to collect at least 252,523 petition signatures which could lead to the repeal of the Michigan Prevailing Wage Act said "we are beating the time frame" to collect the names within a 180-day time frame.

MLive on Aug. 26 quoted Associated Builders and Contractors of Michigan President Chris Fisher as saying that "we are thrilled by the response we've had" to requests for signatures. The ABC, backed by deep-pocketed sponsors like the Devos family of Grand Rapids and through a group called Protect Michigan Taxpayers, have spent in excess of $1 million to collect the signatures this summer.

The group has until November to collect the signatures of the registered voters. The ongoing petition drive is seeking to repeal the Michigan Prevailing Wage Act of 1965. If sufficient signatures are collected and they pass muster with the State Board of Canvassers, then the repeal question is put before the state Legislature. If they fail to enact the bill, the question goes before state voters in November 2016.

Prevailing wage sets wage standards that "prevail" for construction workers in a geographic area, both union and nonunion. Prevailing wage laws lock in wage standards, so that contractors can't win bids by undercutting local wage scales by bringing in low-paid out-of-area workers. Various studies have shown that where the law is removed, industry wages drop by 10 percent or so, safety and training suffer, and construction workers tend to leave the industry or move to states where wages are higher.

The petition to repeal prevailing wage in Michigan is confusing and long - the explanation on the back contains 1,036 words. Very few people outside the construction industry know what prevailing wage is or does, so the building trades have (correctly) suspected that paid petition gatherers would say anything to get people to sign. One petition gatherer outside of a gas station initially told us that signing would lower our taxes. When told that the petition's true outcome would be to lower construction workers' wages, she responded that no, it would actually raise wages.

Others who have encountered signature gatherers were told that the petition would fix the roads. Another said it was to keep jobs in Michigan. "We knew going in that the paid petition gatherers were going to be giving out misinformation and lies in order to get people to sign, and that's what they're doing," said Patrick Devlin, secretary-treasurer of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council. "That's the situation we're left with, but this issue still has to be passed by the Legislature or go to a vote of the people, so there's still hope we can save prevailing wage."