The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, November 21, 2014

New crop of lawmakers is the latest threat to prevailing wage repeal

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

LANSING – There’s a good chance that a lid will be kept on incessant calls from some within the state’s Republican caucus to repeal the Michigan Prevailing Wage Act in the state Legislature’s lame duck session, which will wrap up some time in December .

Next year, however, may be a whole different ballgame.

Back in September , the current Republican leadership in the Michigan Legislature, House Speaker Jase Bolger and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville both shrugged off any chance that the state’s prevailing wage law would be repealed in 2014. Richardville said he had “no interest” in pursuing prevailing wage this year, and Bolger said much the same.

But neither Richardville nor Bolger will be in office next year, as both are term-limited.  Now meet the new bosses. They’re not the same as the old bosses.

Sen. Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) was voted into the Senate majority leader position this month by the GOP caucus as Richardville’s replacement. Replacing Bolger as the next House speaker will be Rep. Kevin Cotter (R-Mt. Pleasant).

There’s no word yet on how Cotter feels about prevailing wage repeal, but Meekhof told MIRS News Service that he thinks repeal is good public policy, so even if repeal is not taken up in 2014 it could make an appearance next year. Meekhof, an arch-conservative who was a sponsor of Michigan’s right-to-work law, also sponsored a three-bill package last year that all dealt with repealing prevailing wage.

With numerous new lawmakers coming to Lansing in the 2014-2015 legislative session, there’s no way to know how the political winds will be blowing.

“The way I see things at this point, I’m optimistic, I think they’re looking at reforming prevailing wage, rather than outright repeal,” said Patrick “Shorty” Gleason, legislative director for the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council. “Reform” of the law is not necessarily a bad thing as far as the trades are concerned, as it could involve updating wage surveys, improving awareness of the law among lawmakers and possibly even improving enforcement.

“With all the new legislators we’re going to be doing a full-court press, along with our contractors, to educate them about why the law is in place, and why it’s a benefit to the state,” Gleason said.

Repeal of the Michigan Prevailing Wage Act of 1965 would be a coup for limited government conservatives, and a devastating blow to the state’s construction industry, both union and nonunion. The state’s law is based on the federal Davis Bacon Act, which requires the payment of local wages that “prevail” in a given area on taxpayer funded projects. The law prevents contractors from winning construction contracts by employing lower-paid, out-of-area workers to undermine bids by local contractors.

Prevailing wage keeps local workers off of public assistance, and recycles income workers make throughout their community, through the payment of local tax dollars and visits to restaurants, shops and car dealerships.

And where does Gov. Rick Snyder stand on prevailing wage repeal? What he has said sounds a lot like what he said about signing right-to-work legislation in 2012. (He said RTW wasn’t on his agenda, and then he put it on his agenda by signing it into law).

Prevailing wage repeal is “a very divisive issue, so I would say it’s not something that we’re working on,” the governor said last year. At another point his spokesman said “this is not at all an issue we are looking at or working on.” We shall see.

Jonathan Byrd, legislative director of the Michigan Laborers District Council, said it is going to be important for individual building trades workers to stand up for their law – the single most important rule on Michigan’s books that bolsters workers’ incomes.

“There are lots of new folks in the Legislature in 2015-2015,” Byrd said. “It’s really key for people to reach out to their legislator and let them know how they feel about the value of prevailing wage, and what it means to their community.”