The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, June 12, 2015

Petition signature gatherers may have to work hard for their money

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor



Coming this summer to a street corner or perhaps a sporting event near you: clipboard-holders with petitions from "Protecting Michigan Taxpayers," promising that if you will sign, you help repeal the state's prevailing wage law and save the state big bucks on construction costs.

You may be tempted to swear at, threaten or get physical with petition takers, but please resist the urge. Although, who could be faulted for letting them know that what they're doing would take money out of your pocket?

The petitions will likely be circulated by the usual suspects who typically circulate petitions when paid to do so. College students, senior citizens, and people with time on their hands who will likely be paid by the signature - thus their motivation. Likely paid for by the billionaire Devos family and perhaps other individuals or groups associated with deep-pocketed conservatives, such petition signers will likely (and ironically) be well paid, and out in force, doing their dirty work of reducing construction workers' pay and benefits, and eventually lowering construction safety and education standards.

So "Protecting Michigan Taxpayers" has the money, the people, and a waiting legislature waiting to make sure that the Michigan Prevailing Wage Act of 1965 is repealed through this petition drive. The one Achilles Heel of the whole operation, however, may be the petition itself.

It's a wordy mess.

Petition gatherers are likely going to appear in front of local supermarkets and at Little League games, asking for signatures to save Michigan $250 million a year. (That's the favorite, bogus claim of prevailing wage repeal proponents). And there are undoubtedly people who will sign without reading what they're signing, just because the person gathering signatures is cute and has a nice smile. But for anyone who actually looks at what he or she is signing - there is enough fine, legal print to prompt anyone to pause and question what's with all the fine type - and hand the clipboard back.

There is no bold type on the front of the petition, only tiny type at the top of the signature sheet that says: "An initiation of legislation to repeal 1965 PA 166, entitled An act to require prevailing wages and fringe benefits on state projects; to establish the requirements and responsibilities of contracting agents and bidders; and to prescribe penalties, (MCL 408.551 to 408.558); and to provide an appropriation for purposes incidental thereto. If not enacted by the Michigan State Legislature in accordance with the Michigan Constitution of 1963, the proposed legislation is to be voted on at the General Election, November 8, 2016."

"FOR THE FULL TEXT OF THE PROPOSED LEGISLATION, SEE THE REVERSE SIDE OF THIS PETITION."

Any potential petition signee who is still interested can flip the sheet over, and muddle through no less than 1,151 words in similar tiny type that explains in gory detail everything that will happen legally if sufficient signatures are obtained to repeal prevailing wage.

Here's one sample section, under "Definitions," toward the middle of the back page under "Section 408.552":

Every contract executed between a contracting agent and a successful bidder as contractor and entered into pursuant to advertisement and invitation to bid for a state project which requires or involves the employment of construction mechanics, other than those subject to the jurisdiction of the state civil service commission, and which is sponsored or financed in whole or in part by the state shall contain an express term that the rates of wages and fringe benefits to be paid to each class of mechanics by the bidder and all of his subcontractors, shall be not less than the wage and fringe benefit rates prevailing in the locality in which the work is to be performed."

Got all that?

Are potential petition signers going to read all 115 of those words,  plus another 1,036 words, on their way into getting a prescription at the local drug store?  The answer, of course, is no. Will they sign simply because the petitioner simply says "taxpayers are going to save money, trust me, that's what it says here?" For the record, the petition language doesn't say a word about taxpayer savings, because petition language is legally limited to facts, not fantasy. 

Outside of the construction industry, only a tiny slice of the population has any concept of what prevailing wage is or does. Petition gatherers, likely backed by some TV, radio and online promotions, are going to have some explaining to do. And for everyone who supports prevailing wage in the construction industry, perhaps the best hope is that potential petition signers get turned off by all the fine print.