The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, May 26, 2017

Prevailing wage repeal bill targets school work

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

LANSING - Just days after the state's building trades unions staged displays in front of the Capitol Building and at the Lansing Center highlighting a century-old tradition of good quality training, fair wages and labor-management cooperation on May 9, examples of perhaps the biggest threats to all of that progress emerged, again.

On May 18 came the announcement that another petition drive would seek to abolish the Michigan Prevailing Wage Act (see related story).

On May 11 state Rep. Pamela Hornberger (R-Chesterfield Township) introduced House Bills 4594 and 4597, which would eliminate the prevailing-wage requirement when public school construction projects are undertaken. Michigan school districts spend an average of $1.3 billion per year on capital construction investments, according to the National Council on School Facilities, and virtually all of that money is spent supporting wages and worker training under the Michigan Prevailing Wage Act of 1965.

"She (Hornberger) has been in office just a few months and now she thinks she knows enough about our industry to eliminate prevailing wage, a law which has been around, for good reason, for 50-plus years," said Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council Legislative Director Patrick "Shorty" Gleason. "I think it's maybe not a coincidence that she chose the week we held our building trades conference to introduce that bill, and then we get news the next week that another petition drive is starting."

Hornberger won her first general election for state House last November. She was endorsed by the anti-union Associated Builders and Contractors, the biggest driver behind prevailing wage repeal in Michigan. Without fail, a repeal bill of some sort pops up every year in Lansing.  

Prodded by the ABC, the Republican-led state Legislature made prevailing wage repeal its No. 1 priority two years ago, but the effort stalled when Gov. Rick Snyder made it known that he would veto the measure. Undeterred, on Jan. 18 of this year, three Republican state senators showed their devotion to eliminating prevailing wage, co-sponsoring the Senate Bills 1, 2 and 3, which would repeal the law.

“For years, our schools, universities, and state government have been forced to overspend taxpayer dollars on construction projects, instead of hiring the best company for the best price,” said Jeff Wiggins, state director of ABC.

The ABC always focuses its argument on saving taxpayer dollars, but numerous studies have shown that the prevailing wage doesn't increase construction costs, and it's elimination is seen as an ideological assault on organized labor. Prevailing wage is easily the most important law on the state's books that upholds construction workers' wages, and it also helps sustain the training programs put in place by labor and management. 

"With the proposed legislation and now the petition drive, the attacks are relentless," Gleason said. "But we're always seeking opportunities to educate our legislators about the benefits of a well-trained, productive construction workforce, just as we did with our big conference on May 9."