The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, May 26, 2017

Here we go again: 3rd petition drive seeks to repeal prevailing wage law

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

LANSING -  It's springtime in Michigan, so that must mean the Associated Builders and Contractors is starting a petition drive to repeal the state Prevailing Wage Act of 1965.

On May 16, for the third straight spring, the anti-union ABC, through a front group, has announced an effort to hire a petition gathering firm to collect signatures in an effort to kill the law which upholds wage, benefit and training standards for the state's construction workers. 

"Here they come again," said Patrick Devlin, secretary-treasurer of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council. "It's just seems like a never-ending effort by people who want to take the low road, and bring in lower wages and destabilize the state's construction industry. Of course we're going to fight it again, but they have some deep-pocketed backers who have seen the previous failed petition efforts and obviously aren't deterred by those failures."

The group seeking to overturn the state's prevailing wage law has hit a wall in the governor's office, where Gov. Rick Snyder has indicated he would veto any repeal measure. 

But there's a way to get around Snyder. The anti-prevailing wage crowd, led by ABC-Michigan, will attempt for the third time to utilize a clause in the state Constitution which allows groups to use the power of a petition drive to create citizen-initiated legislation. Under the law, if the state Board of Canvassers OKs the petition language (and they did on May 18), prevailing wage repeal advocates would have a 180-day window to collect a percentage of signatures based on the last general election (in 2015 the magic number was about 252,000 signatures). If a sufficient number of signatures were gathered,  it would put the repeal legislation before the Legislature. State lawmakers would then have 40 days to act on the petition language bill or let it go to a ballot issue for a statewide vote in November 2018. Gov. Snyder would have no veto power under this scenario.

The language in this petition would designate $75,000 in state money to be used for "the purpose of implementing and communication information about the repeal.” According to the state Constitution, attaching money to the legislation would make it impossible to overturn the measure using a citizens petition. The state's right-to-work law was enshrined using that method in 2012.

For the past several years, building trades leaders have been lobbying a handful of potentially swing GOP lawmakers who might be convinced that prevailing wage repeal is the wrong path for the state, as Snyder has suggested. However, a number of new lawmakers were voted into office last November, and the educational and lobbying process has begun anew. If enough petition signatures are gathered, the best case scenario to sustain prevailing wage is to stop the repeal proposal in the Legislature, and let it go to a statewide vote.
The ABC's front group, Protect Michigan Taxpayers, started petition drives in the spring of 2015 and 2016, both of which ended in failure. The 2015 effort was particularly costly, with the ABC and its backers spending about $1.85 million on an effort that failed spectacularly. Some 43 percent of the 390,000 names gathered by the Nevada-based company hired to circulate the petitions were found to be invalid, with about 50,000 duplicate signatures. The backers were primarily the billionaires in the Devos family of Grand Rapids. 

Then as the weather warmed in 2016, another statewide petition drive by the same cast of characters started but was aborted for undisclosed reasons after about a two-month period.
In both of those efforts, the ABC claimed the state's taxpayers would save $250 million per year in construction costs, but as we have reported extensively over the years, there are multiple academic studies which have shown that prevailing wage repeal offers zero savings to taxpayers, but instead lowers construction workers' wages, reduces training budgets and takes away a degree of workforce certainty in the construction industry because workers will seek higher paychecks elsewhere.

Published reports said the ABC would employ a different petition gathering firm this time.

The advocate group in this matter for the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council, Proect Michigan Jobs, will continue its public relations, lobbying and informational campaign to retain prevailing wage.

"We're having trouble understanding why Republican legislators would want to cut the pay of the hard-working skilled trades men and women who voted for Donald Trump," said Protect Michigan Jobs spokesman David Waymire to MIRS News Service. "Trump is telling workers he wants to increase their pay when this initiative is all about cutting pay for some of the hardest-working people in our state."