BAY CITY – The city’s prevailing wage law was repealed Feb. 6, on a 5-4 vote by a City Commission whose majority bared its conservative fangs and then bit into the region’s construction workers.
A three-vote swing in last November’s election resulted in a 5-4 Republican majority on the Bay City Commission, which opened the door to the prevailing wage repeal. “Elections have consequences,” said Tri-County Building Trades President Bill Borch, who is also upstate business agent for Iron Workers Local 25. “I worked on the law in the early 1990s, and take personal exception to it being overturned. We tried to compromise, but this is what happens when you don’t have friends among lawmakers.”
Held at the State Theatre to accommodate an overflowing crowd packed with building trades union workers and supporters, the Feb. 6 City Commission meeting was the culmination of back-and-forth discussion and amendments held over the past several weeks. Ultimately, the majority of the commission rejected proposals to retain a watered-down prevailing wage law that would kick in only above certain cost points on public construction projects.
“What happened here is no different than what’s going on in Madison, Wisconsin, Indianapolis, or Lansing,” said Bay City IBEW Local 692 Business Manager Mark Bauer. “It’s a Republican agenda against workers. They can talk all they want that this is about cost savings, but that’s a crock. The reality is that they have gained control of city commissions and state legislatures, and they’re treating the middle class likes it’s the evil empire.”
Voting in favor of a repeal were commissioners Dennis Banaszak, 3rd Ward; Chris Girard, 6th Ward; Elizabeth Peters, 2nd Ward; Chad Sibley, 8th Ward; and Lynn Stamiris, 1st Ward. Voting against were Lori Dufresne, 4th Ward; Larry Elliott, 9th Ward; Jim Irving, 5th Ward; and Douglas Sommer, 7th Ward.
Building trades representatives had earlier publicly expressed their displeasure with Commissioner Peters, who is employed by a law firm whose clients have sued to overturn the state’s Prevailing Wage Act as well as to overturn the Bay City prevailing wage law. She recused herself last month on a preliminary vote on the Bay City prevailing wage law, but participated with a “yes” vote to repeal the law on Feb. 6. “It’s a travesty she was allowed to vote,” Borch said.
Peters’ conflict of interest became moot, apparently, when the lawsuit backed by the Associated Builders and Contractors seeking to toss out Bay City’s prevailing wage law was dropped. And the lawsuit was dropped, apparently, when it became clear that prevailing wage opponents had the five votes necessary on the commission to overturn the law.
One of those votes belonged to Commissioner Dufresne. “I haven’t made it a secret that I am totally against repealing prevailing wage,” he said. “It doesn’t just help union workers, it helps workers that come in with other companies to make a better living.” Unfortunately, he was in the minority.
“This is a small battle in a much bigger fight, and we must be vigilant to make sure this doesn’t happen in other cities in Michigan,” said Michigan AFL-CIO President Karla Swift. “Elections have consequences, and it’s important that we support candidates that will stand up for working families and the middle class.”