'We are going to continue to meet with our friends and foes alike'
LANSING – In a political environment that has been a breeding ground for Michigan's right-to-work law and a host of other anti-union pieces of legislation, a combination of hard work, incompetence and luck have kept the state Prevailing Wage Act of 1965 in place.
"It is a good sign to see what you all did collectively with this challenge that faced you - with really daunting odds at that point," said John Pirich, an attorney hired by the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council to fight the dual petition drives in 2015 and again in 2016. "That's the good news. But we're not done."
Pirich spoke on March 8 to delegates to the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council's Legislative Conference. As background to his comments, we have explained often, and again below, what happened with the two petition drives to overturn Michigan's prevailing law. With big money conservatives like the Devos family bankrolling the efforts, either of the repeal efforts seemed like sure things - until they weren't.
In 2015, Silver Bullet LLC of Nevada was hired by the Associated Builders and Contractors via their front group, Protect Michigan Taxpayers, to gather petition signatures intended to overturn the Michigan Prevailing Wage Act. Silver Bullet needed at least 252,523 names, and they turned in about 390,000. The problem: a union-backed analysis of the signatures found an estimated 161,781 invalid names, with many signature-gatherers signing the petition multiple times, and nearly 50,000 duplicate names found. Some 20 percent of the names were ineligible to vote.
The fraud killed the 2015 effort, and a 2016 petition drive ended a few weeks after it started, with many suspecting that the Devos family pulled the plug on the funding. So far, there has been no new petition effort in 2017, but prevailing wage repeal has been introduced in the Michigan Senate - the first legislation of the year, Senate Bills 1, 2 and 3.
This year, "the Senate immediately took up the bills again and we have a tough battle in the House," Pirich said. "Last year we met with 20-25 members of the House Republican and gave our presentation and gave them the facts of what happened, and we had a very receptive audience. Not all of the members would agree on the fundamental issue, but they listened to us and they saw the credibility issues that the ABC effort posed."
Pirich said the informational meetings regarding prevailing wage "are continuing with ongoing meetings. But we have to be incredibly vigilant. We are going to continue to meet with our friends and foes alike, and I commend you all for not stopping at the first inning, and knowing that the game had many more innings to go."
Opponents of the state’s prevailing wage law maintain that repeal would save taxpayers money on public construction. Proponents, including building trades unions, major contractors and contractor associations, and numerous academic researchers have maintained that repeal does not benefit taxpayers, and would result in lower wages, reduced resources for worker training, and even more workers fleeing the construction industry.
No criminal charges were ever filed in the 2015 petition case, but Pirich said the ABC won an undisclosed settlement from Silver Bullet in January. "In our opinion," Pirich said, the case "was not only false but fraudulent. We asked for an investigation by the secretary of state and attorney general but have heard nothing."