The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, November 13, 2015

Prevailing wage repeal effort: here we go again

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

LANSING -  The group sponsoring a petition drive intended to repeal the Michigan Prevailing Wage Act couldn't deny the massive number of duplicate and improper names on the signature sheets, and ditched its months-long, statewide effort on Oct. 30.

But Chris Fisher the leader of the anti-prevailing wage group, Protecting Michigan Taxpayers, vowed to re-start the petition process, saying he would submit new petition language to the Secretary of State to do just that. That action was prompted by a press conference held four days earlier by the union-backed group, Protect Michigan Jobs, which found that 43 percent of the 390,000 repeal signatures submitted to the state Board of Canvassers were invalid, meaning that the petition effort was more than 25,000 short of the needed 252,523 required by state law.

"They're woefully insufficient from the requirements of the state constitution," said John Pirich, a partner in the Honigman law firm hired by Protect Michigan Jobs.

Citing state campaign finance reports, published reports say that Protecting Michigan Taxpayers has raised and spent about $1.7 million to fund the anti-prevailing wage effort this summer and fall. "Obviously, the money wasn't well-spent," said Pirich. Much of the funding for the petition effort came from the Devos family of Grand Rapids.

The group hired Silver Bullet Group of Las Vegas to collect the signatures, in an effort that obviously failed miserably. Fisher declined to say whether legal action would be brought against the group. Research into the documents shows that 123,000 signatures were eliminated because they were not registered to vote, and petition challengers found nearly 50,000 duplicate signatures. The count showed that 18,767 people signed twice.

Apparently Protecting Michigan Taxpayers is confident that their deep-pocketed backers are willing to double-down on the incompetence of the ABC and its signature collectors with their vow to re-start the petition process. Now, having filed the petition paperwork, the group's new deadline to collect the necessary 252,523 signatures is in April  2016. If sufficient signatures are collected - and approved - the prevailing wage repeal question goes before the state Legislature, where the building trades have been lobbying a handful of moderate Republican lawmakers not to approve it. If the Legislature votes down the measure or passes on it, the prevailing wage repeal question goes to the voters in the form of a statewide referendum in November 2016.

“Out of respect for the integrity of the petition process,” Fisher said, “Protecting Michigan Taxpayers has filed new petition language, and looks forward to collecting signatures again to ensure voters’ voices will be heard." With the sponsor of the petition drive essentially throwing in the towel, the Michigan Board of Canvassers formally voided the documents last week.

Countered Patrick Devlin, a co-chair of Protect Michigan Jobs and secretary-treasurer of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council: "Well, out of respect for the building trades workers around Michigan who don't want to see their wages cut with the elimination of prevailing wage, we're going to keep up the fight against this petition drive."

Gov. Rick Snyder has seemed to indicate that he would veto prevailing wage repeal, but he would be bypassed if the signature gathering effort is successful. State surveys indicate strong support for prevailing wage, and construction industry leaders from Barton Malow, Walbridge, Spence Brothers have also publicly expressed support for the law. Bart Carrigan, a co-chair of Protect Michigan Jobs and President and CEO of Associated General Contractors of Michigan, said "eliminating prevailing wage to cut wages and benefits of hard working skilled trades men and women in our state would hurt the Michigan economy, aggravating current worker shortages in the industry and discouraging young people from entering these valuable professions. Let's end this attack on skilled trade workers and the companies who hire them as quickly as possible, so we can focus on building a better Michigan."