The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, June 29, 2018

Our ability to win these battles starts at the ballot box

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

"Reward your friends and punish your enemies."

That oft-quoted line by Samuel Gompers (1850-1924), the first and longest-serving president of the American Federation of Labor, was uttered in a completely different political era. But for all building trades workers in Michigan, both union and nonunion, it is completely applicable to what happened in Lansing, Michigan in June 2018.

The repeal of the Michigan Prevailing Wage Act on June 6 was a numbers game, pure and simple. The vote was 23-14 to repeal in the Michigan Senate, and 56-53 in the state House, 56-53. 

"We knew the vote was going to be a close vote in the House, and it was: just a two-vote swing and we get to vote on prevailing wage on the ballot in November," said Patrick Devlin, secretary-treasurer of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council. "And that's a ballot issue we would win. The people of Michigan are in our corner on this, they don't want their neighbors' wages to be cut. But some of our conservative legislators? Obviously, they have a different agenda, and time and again they have shown they support corporate interests, not those of working people."

It was also a case of numbers on a state appeals court and on the Supreme Court, where judges on both panels denied union-backed motions to kill the prevailing wage petition because signature-gatherers and the petitions they collected should have been tossed out due to a plethora of invalid addresses provided.

"The opportunities so far haven’t gone our way (the court decisions and the legislative vote) but we have more coming up," said MBCTC President Steve Claywell, who was among those lobbied lawmakers day after day to get the vote as close as it was. "We have two more opportunities to rewrite the foundation of future attacks on the middle class in Michigan. The next opportunity is the primary election and closely behind that is election day in November."

In the Michigan Senate, all 14 Democratic senators voted to keep prevailing wage. They were joined by the following Republicans: Sen Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba, 38th District); Sen Mike Nofs (R-Battle Creek, 19th District); Sen. Tory Rocca (R-Sterling Hts. 10th District); and Sen Dale Zorn (R-Ida, 17th District).

In the Michigan House, every Democrat voted to keep prevailing wage. They were joined by the following Republicans: Rep Bellino (R-Monroe, 17th District); Rep. Gary Howell (Lapeer Co., 82nd District); Rep Martin Howrylak (R-Troy, 41st District);  Rep. Steve  Marino (R-Harrison Twp., 41st District); Rep Brett Roberts (R-Charlotte, 65th District); Rep Jason Sheppard (R-Monroe Co., 56th District) and Rep. Jeff Yaroch (R-Richmond, 33rd District).

Claywell said the building trades lobbying team went into the June 6 day of voting by the Legislature "cautiously optimistic" based on conversations that were held with a few swing House members. "The optimism was based on the many visits and conversations we had with these lawmakers," he said. "We thought they understood what ending prevailing wage would result in, the wage cuts and all other negative things that it would cause."

Unfortunately for the state's men and women working in the building trades, there were not enough Republican votes to sustain prevailing wage. 

Let’s compare and contrast who our friends are in the Legislature. Here are typical comments from the Republican repeal crowd:

“I remain committed to repealing Michigan’s prevailing wage laws,” said state Sen. Pete MacGregor (R-Rockford. “Our state has experienced remarkable economic growth in recent years, and we have worked hard to enact reforms that will continue moving Michigan forward. Getting rid of burdensome, outdated prevailing wage laws will help those efforts to make our state the best place to live, work, and raise a family.”

Said state Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker (R-Lawton) to the Herald Palladium: “Prevailing wage creates a 15 percent average overrun on construction projects. This repeal will allow for more money to go into classrooms instead of to the cost for building repairs. More of the taxpayers' money will go to education.”

Schuitmaker and every other lawmaker who voted to repeal prevailing wage was given ample information and access to studies that show prevailing wage doesn't create a "15 percent average overrun on construction projects," or any other overrun. The studies have shown the law has zero impact to taxpayers when it comes to funding public construction.

Typical comments from the Democratic side were made by state Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. (D–East Lansing)
“Repealing prevailing wage does nothing to protect taxpayers," he said. "It does nothing to support our workers. Instead, repealing prevailing wage undercuts both to give wealthy corporations even larger profits.”

Added state Sen. David Knezek (D–Dearborn Heights): “Today’s vote by Senate Republicans defies logic. It’s ironic that at a time when we have a critical skills shortage in Michigan, and when we know we need to focus on increasing wages, the repeal of prevailing wage just lowered paychecks and training opportunities for our hard-working citizens.”

In fact, a study by the Midwest Economic Policy Institute following the 2015 repeal of Indiana's prevailing wage law found that construction worker wages dropped 8.5 percent on average.

Claywell said the opportunity for payback from Michigan's building trades workers starts this year with the statewide primary on Aug. 7 and continues with the general election on Nov. 6. Not everyone who voted against prevailing wage will be on those ballots, but many will.

"It's just been a continuous attack on the workers of this state," Claywell said. "These elections are opportunity to make sure that there is some accountability, some payback against these lawmakers, by the men and women in the building trades who are getting their pay cut, their benefits cut, and seeing their livelihoods attacked. If they voted to repeal prevailing wage - isn't it time to vote them out?"