The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, March 23, 2018

Prevailing wage, politics, potholes key to building trades conference

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

LANSING - Save Michigan's prevailing wage law? Check. Rebuild our crumbling infrastructure? Check. Elect a labor-friendly state Legislature? Check. 

Those three subjects were atop the to-do list by nearly every speaker who addressed the 155 delegates to the 59th Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council's Legislative Conference. Held March 6-7 at the Radisson Hotel, the conference, more than anything, was a reminder of the perilous status of the construction industry's most important law - prevailing wage. It was also a reminder of the post-perilous, awful status of the state's roads and bridges, which are overall are likely in their most decrepit condition in the state's history, with scant monetary resources on the way to fix them. 

Electing a labor-friendly governor, or majority in the state House or Senate on general election day, Nov. 6, is likely the only path to getting more money for the roads and other infrastructure, and ending all the constant attacks against organized labor that have come about over the past six years. 

Following are some comments made by some of the speakers.

State Rep. Christine Greig (D-Farmington Hills) - That's what's missing today. When we discount the work of labor to bring economic prosperity to our families here in Michigan and in the entire country we're missing out on economic prosperity for the entire country. 

"I serve as the floor leader, so I'm in the political trenches every single day fighting off this legislation that constantly attacks our working families. And this term hasn't been any different since Snyder's first term, when they rammed through so-called right-to-work. And of course we know that was aimed at taking power away from working people by taking away their collective voice. A voice that brings power to the working class. And this term has been no different. They've attacked civil service rules, teacher pensions, police and fire health care and pensions, watered down professional certifications, and on and on. 

"And now of course they are attacking prevailing wage once again, even though studies prove that this does nothing for workers and everything for profits at the expense of safety, quality and cost. 

Why do they want to go down the same path Indiana has gone down. We've seen the recent research and we know that prevailing wage repeal doesn't work. We know that wages dropped, productivity dropped, turnover increased and public work employment growth was slower than in neighboring states like Michigan. And yet the cost to government stayed the same. So the attack on workers with no benefits other than profits for the ABC."

State Sen. Jim Ananich (D-Flint) - "This is going to be a real pivotal election we have in November. We're going to see our Republican colleagues try to divide us on issues that are important, but not the most important. I think the most important issue that we care about is that paycheck we get every two weeks. 

"We've seen their vision for what you should be paid, time and time again, when it comes to attacking prevailing wage. 

"They are coming  for us. They don't think that people in this country deserve a good wage. They don't think that collective bargaining, bargaining for your health care, your pension, is something that we should have. We fought for that. We've earned it. You've earned it. We have to make sure that we send a strong message in November that we're tired of it. 

"Not that there haven't been some (Republican lawmakers) who have been friends. You have to support them. But overall, time and time again, they don't value the work that you do. The work that your brothers and sisters in your organizations do every single day to make sure that roads are safe. 

"They'd rather spend money on tax breaks for billionaires and corporations, than fix our roads and our bridges. They'd rather circumvent prevailing wage and Davis Bacon, and go around the law."

State Brett Roberts (R-Charlotte) -
"I respect what you guys do on a day to day basis. The value of hard work. I think that's one thing that's extremely important that you bring to our communities every day - showing everyone the value of hard work. And showing that hard work pays off and you can make a great living and do great things, not only in what you build but in being members of the community. That's really important. 

"As you know Michigan is currently facing a shortage of skilled trades workers. We were once the manufacturing powerhouse of the world and now we have an abundance of work with a shortage of labor.

At a time when we are trying to attract young people to these great careers it confuses me why we are having the conversation on whether or not to reduce construction wages. Making decisions that could damage our trade industries in the middle of a skilled trades shortage would be devastating to Michigan. 

"It simply does not make sense and we should be supporting the growth of careers, not inhibiting them. We should be encouraging young workers to stay in Michigan and not move away. We should be supporting the skilled trades, not dismantling them. We cannot take your hard work for granted. Supporting the skilled trades keeps food on the table for countless Michigan families, and keeps Michigan jobs in Michigan."

State Rep. Sara Cambensy (D-Marquette) - "I believe that prevailing wage is one of the most important laws we have to build our economy. 

"So what can you do to help? I urge you to step up and run for office on a local level. That's where I started 10 years ago on the Planning Commission. If you have the time and you can do it, we need your expertise. 

"Make sure you contact those representatives and senators who do not support prevailing wage or who haven't made a commitment. It's very important to reach out to them. Because the more pressure you put on them the better off all of us will be in making sure this doesn't pass."

State Rep. Tim Greimel (D-Auburn Hills) -
"We have a fight on our hands as all of you know. Just as the prevailing wage is under attack here at the state level, I think it's safe to say that if we don't get a majority in the U.S. House Republicans in the national level will be coming after federal prevailing wage, the Davis Bacon Act. So the stakes are high.

"There are some other really pressing issues as well. I know all of you, as much as anybody, know the importance of investing in infrastructure. Here in Michigan, our roads are crumbling, our bridges are crumbling. We've seen the Flint water crisis, the Macomb County sinkhole, and the need to invest in underground infrastructure, water and sewer lines. We have an opportunity on the federal level to do a real infrastructure package if the people in Washington show the backbone and leadership to make that happen. 

"Unfortunately the proposal President Trump has put forward has a relatively small amount of federal dollars associated with it and relies on states and private entities to hopefully pony up the vast majority of the funds. I think it's an unrealistic proposal on the federal level but I'm hoping we can build on it and turn it into a real proposal to invest in trillions of dollars around this country. It really should have been done years ago, it will put tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of construction workers to work, and make sure we finally have the world-class infrastructure that the world's richest country deserves."

State Sen. Curtis Hertel (D-East Lansing) - "We have people standing knee-deep in potholes. I think people today are sick and tired of paying more and getting less from their government. 

"We have an amazing opportunity this election. We are down eight seats in the state House and eight seats in the state Senate. In Virginia they won 15 seats in one night. We can take this whole state back for the people of Michigan and we're going to partner together to do so.

"During the State of the State address, one of the things the governor said that struck me was that if a politician uses the word fighting, you should stop them. Good politicians don't fight, good politicians work together. Well here's what I have to say to all of you, When they stop attacking your wages I'll stop fighting. When they start rebuilding our roads I'll stop fighting. When they stop raising taxes on middle class families and giving tax cuts to corporations I'll stop fighting. When they decide they work for the men and women of Michigan I'll stop fighting, but until then I'll fight for you every single day."

State Rep. Sam Singh (D-East Lansing) - "As we get into the last eight months of my tenure the biggest issue that we are working on is actually working with all of you, to fight the repeal of prevailing wage. We are on a phone call every Friday morning, talking about that, and we have three strategies. One is the work that you are all doing already, that is to hopefully take this and get it kicked off the ballot. We know for a fact that people lied to get the signatures. We know that people who were dead were actually circulators of petitions. So there was actually fraud that got those petitions over to the secretary of state. 

"Now is our time to kick that off that ballot. And if that doesn't happen we have a second strategy, and that strategy is working with our Republican colleagues. In the House we have to find nine Republicans to join with us, because I have every single Democrat in the House who said they will never repeal prevailing wage. 

"So I just need nine Republicans to stand with us and we kick this to the ballot in November, and let the citizens decide. You already heard from one of them today. I'm proud that Brett Roberts is standing with you and with us on this fight. There are obviously a number of others who are wavering back and forth and I know many of you have been meeting with them. With your voice and with your members' voices - and I know many of your members voted Republican - and they should be listening to you. And they should be standing with us. And if it doesn't happen that way, then we're going to put this on the ballot in November, and repeal it back and make sure that prevailing wage is there for all of us."

State Rep. Brian Elder (D-Bay City) -
"As a member of the House Caucus Campaign Committee, I spend most of my time preparing for his election in 2018, and it is going to be a fight. 

"If our party takes labor for granted, if its simply expects that we just show up, as we always have, that's a mistake. It shows a lack of respect, and it must change. Now while some on the left are confused about your power, guess who isn't confused at all. The Koch brothers (billionaire brothers who give to conservative causes).  Guess who doesn't take you, organized labor, for granted. The Koch brothers. Guess who understands that it is labor holding up the tent. The Koch brothers. I have a newspaper clip with me today from The Guardian, who recently did an investigative piece based on a 10-page letter that the Koch brothers did explaining their playbook.  Short version: if we can destroy unions, the progressives will fall apart. 

"And I quote: 'By undermining unions, we can ensure the permanent collapse of progressive politics.'

"The enemy understands that the organized worker is the fundamental foundation of the Democratic Party. They are not working this hard to destroy the Sierra Club, are they? No. But it is not enough to complain that the far left has taken our party. It hasn't. What you have to do is lean in and fight back. You feel that the left wing is too important in the party? Then state your case and fight hard. If you don't like their priorities or talking points, stand up and demand a litmus test for Democratic candidates. Make them respect those who built, grow and maintain this party. This is politics. It is important. It is life and death. 

"The other party will spend this election talking about guns. To our people. And then they will try to pass HB 5456, to make it harder for a dying worker to bring in an asbestos claim, which is often the workers' last chance to provide for his spouse and his children.

The other party will spend this election year talking about social issues, and then they will strip away prevailing wage. They will rob our people of their daily bread and their opportunity to lead middle class lives.

"The other party will focus on  immigrants, or who uses what bathroom or anything else they can think of to divide us and distract us. We fight this by focusing. We focus on our issues and we demand that our state representatives focus on our issues. How do we do this? How do we get the change that we need? We need to demand that more labor Democrats get recruited to office. Then when we recruit them we give them the support that they need to win. I need you to go through your rolodexes and membership lists to help us find the sons and daughters of labor who will represent your interests in Lansing. Without any questions asked. Full stop. With your help we can return our party back to a working person's party. Because when we do, your jobs, your benefits, our working class culture itself, will be safe."