The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, June 17, 2011


By The Building Tradesman

Prevailing wage gets some GOP support

Several states governed entirely by Republican lawmakers, including Michigan, seem poised to overturn statewide prevailing wage laws on taxpayer funded construction projects.

But anti-prevailing wage sentiments have been much more muted on the federal level. The federal Davis Bacon Act, which requires the payment of prevailing wage to construction workers on federally funded construction projects, has in recent years repeatedly garnered fairly significant Republican support during various calls for its repeal.

The latest example took place on June 2, when the U.S. House debated and voted on a Republican lawmaker’s amendment to a Homeland Security Appropriations Bill that would have struck Davis-Bacon requirements. With the support of 52 Republican lawmakers, the amendment was defeated, 234-183.  A single Democrat from North Carolina voted to remove Davis-Bacon requirements.

Three Republican congressional representatives from Michigan supported Davis-Bacon: Thaddeus McCotter, Candace Miller and Fred Upton.

There was less Republican support for the federal use of project labor agreements, which President Obama has “allowed” but not mandated through an executive order. (Obama’s order overturned President G.W. Bush’s executive order disallowing PLAs).  Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) offered an amendment to prohibit consideration of the use of PLAs by federal agencies. The anti-PLA measure was defeated by a 213-207 margin, with 28 Republicans voting with Democrats in support of PLAs, and a lone Democrat from Oklahoma voting with Republicans.

Two Republican congressional representatives from Michigan supported PLAs: McCotter and Upton.

Neither House measure would have made it though the U.S. Senate, which is Democratically controlled.

“This is our second victory in the U.S. House of Representatives this year on PLAs,” said AFL-CIO Building Trades Department President Mark Ayers, “and we expect future PLA votes. The Building Trades Department and its Legislative Task Force will continue its outreach efforts to Democrats and all key Republicans to protect the President’s Executive Order and the ability of federal agencies to implement it. This was a significant victory for all building trades unions!”

Tough reality for union numbers

Some blunt talk came from Laborers International Union General President Terrence O’Sullivan at The Association of Union Constructors’ annual leadership conference last month.

According to the TAUC, he talked about the challenges currently facing his union: Laborers membership has dropped by roughly 30,000 over the past two years, and on average, work hours are down roughly 30 percent nationwide. Other building trades unions could be expected to report similar numbers.

“Here’s a very telling statistic,” O’Sullivan said, “81 percent of our construction membership lives in 14 states and one (Canadian) province.” With numbers like that, “we can’t be a viable, long-term organization.” As a result, LIUNA plans to spend roughly $250 million over the next five years on organizing. O’Sullivan noted that he has talked with Iron Workers General President Walt Wise about planning some joint organizing efforts as well.

“We want to stay strong where we are (already) strong, and focus a lot of our organizing efforts on medium-, low- and no-density areas,” O’Sullivan added