The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, October 16, 2015

Contractors voice support for prevailing wage

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

LANSING - Prevailing wage is good for Michigan. And the nonunion Associated Builders and Contractors, which is the primary backer of the effort to repeal the state's prevailing wage law, does not speak for the entire Michigan construction industry.

That was the word from a coalition of representatives of construction-related groups, who participated in a press conference on Sept. 28.  Participants included representatives from the Associated General Contractors of Michigan and a number of other business officials who said the prevailing wage repeal effort is exactly the opposite of what the industry needs in terms of retaining a skilled workforce.

“The vast majority of Michigan construction companies, and virtually all state construction associations, are opposed to the effort of one construction association and a handful of companies to end prevailing wage,” said Vincent Deleonardis, chairman of the Associated General Contractors of Michigan. He is also president of the George W. Auch Co., a construction company usually found on the Engineering News Record's Top 400 list of U.S. contractors.

The state's Prevailing Wage Act of 1965 is in peril of being repealed through the efforts of a statewide petition sponsored by a big-money-backed group called Protect Michigan. The group has announced that they have collected well in excess of the 252,000 petition signatures necessary to bring the prevailing wage repeal question to the state Legislature. If the state approves the signatures, the state Legislature is required to vote on whether to repeal prevailing wage. If the lawmakers do not support prevailing wage repeal, the question then goes to a statewide ballot in November 2016.

“The vast majority of Michigan voters support prevailing wage policies. Let the public decide this important issue,” said Herb Spence III, president and CEO of Spence Brothers, a construction company with offices in Saginaw, Ann Arbor and Traverse City.

Patrick Devlin, secretary-treasurer of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council, said the repeal effort would cut wages at a time when the industry is struggling to keep its workers. “We are building the next generation of construction workers out there,” he said. “Lowering the pay scale for workers is not the way to attract, retain or grow a workforce. It simply doesn’t work no matter what industry you’re from.”

For the past two years, the national Associated General Contractors has repeatedly warned about a looming shortage of workers in the construction industry. "We have a workforce crisis," said AGC-Michigan Secretary Bart Carrigan.

The anti-union ABC and their GOP supporters in the state Legislature have played up a single study that says prevailing wage repeal would save the state $224 million per year, while supporters of the law have pointed to several academic studies showing that repeal doesn't save taxpayers a dime, but repeal would lower worker wages and jobsite safety, and push workers away from the construction industry.

Mike Stobak, a vice president at Barton Malow, one of the state's largest construction contractors, has pointed out that his firm hires both union and nonunion contractors. Citing the suspension of the Michigan Prevailing Act from 1994-1997, Stobak said the experience was "an absolute disaster" for the industry.

"The savings are completely fictitious, and anyone who thinks that quality of work won't be affected, and safety and productivity won't be affected, they're simply being naive." Stobak said at the press conference.

The Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council has heard from scores of people who have been approached in public places by prevailing wage repeal petitioners, with the clipboard holders falsely claiming their petition will reduce taxes, improve workforce training or retain prevailing wage.

John Banks, the president of Motor Shop Electrical Construction Co. (Battle Creek) said minority contractors back prevailing wage laws because they help them get a fair opportunity to win bids and pay fair wages to workers. “I was very disturbed to see the ABC petition circulators misleading voters to get signatures on their petitions,” he said. “I hope that someone at the state looks into this matter and that lawmakers put this measure on the ballot.”