The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, December 22, 2017

Counter-petition drive launched to save Michigan's prevailing wage law

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

LANSING - Michigan Prevails and Protect Michigan Jobs on Dec. 12 announced plans to undertake a petition seeking to retain the Michigan Prevailing Wage Act.

A kickoff event was held at the National Electrical Contractors Association- Michigan Chapter offices. It's no small undertaking: well more than 252,000 signatures will need to be gathered in a 180-day period, during the darkest and coldest months of the year. If successful, the petition would establish "The Construction Workers Fair Wage Act," which would require the payment of prevailing wages and fringe benefits on state-funded projects; establish the requirements and responsibilities of contracting agents and bidders, and prescribe penalties for violation of the act.

“Repealing prevailing wage takes money directly out of the pockets of Michigan’s hardworking men and women,” said Mike Crawford, Executive Director of Michigan Chapter NECA. “Our goal is to let the people decide, and the petition drive will allow this issue to be put on the 2018 ballot.”

Petition sponsors Michigan Prevails and Protect Michigan Jobs are groups backed by labor unions, their employing contractors and contractor associations. They are comprised of virtually every construction association in the state and major building trades organizations representing more than 100,000 skilled trades workers in Michigan.

If enough petition signatures are gathered and approved by the state, the question of the establishment of the Construction Workers Fair Wage Act would go before the state Legislature - and would likely lose, given the conservative makeup of the state House and Senate. And if the petition language is not adopted into law by the state Legislature, the Michigan Constitution allows the petition language to be moved onto the next statewide ballot, in this case on Nov. 6, 2018.

"We've said all along," said Patrick Devlin, secretary-treasurer of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council, "that the prevailing wage law is too important to the State of Michigan, to the construction industry and to all construction workers, both union and nonunion, for us to allow it to be rescinded by a well-funded special interest group with wealthy backers with their own agenda."

He was referencing the work of Protecting Michigan Taxpayers, the front group for the Associated Builders and Contractors - Michigan. They sponsored a petition drive during 2017 seeking to repeal the Michigan Prevailing Wage Act of 1965, and through their efforts - and expenditures of more than $1 million - turned in more than 380,000 signatures in early November. Those signatures are currently being analyzed by the state Bureau of Elections. 

Approval of the signatures by the state is no slam dunk: A 2015 petition drive backed by the same ABC-Michigan-backed group was disqualified because more than 40 percent of the names were successfully challenged and disqualified.

If the state certifies that there are 252,523 valid signatures, the petition goes before the state Legislature, which is likely to approve the language and repeal the prevailing wage law in January. NECA's Crawford called this counter-petition drive a "preemptive measure" in the event the Legislature adopts the repeal language.

The counter-petition taken up by Michigan Prevails and Protect Michigan Jobs basically would revive the existing state law, but it would add a $1 million state appropriation for enforcement, which has the effect of making it referendum proof. Initially, volunteers from the trades and elsewhere are distributing the petitions, which should be available for signing at your union hall.  

For building trades workers who are not registered to vote, now would be a good time to do so. Get registered at your local clerk's office, then sign the petition.