The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, March 08, 2013

Prevailing wage repeal lurks in House, Senate – your voice is needed

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

LANSING – Numerous bills have been introduced over the years to repeal Michigan’s Prevailing Wage Act of 1965. Most were symbolic and lacked support of sufficient lawmakers in either the House or Senate or the governor’s office.

Those harmless attacks may prove to be the good old days for prevailing wage, the most important law on the books that bolsters construction workers’ wages in Michigan. Last month, three bills were introduced in the state House, along with three in the state Senate, that would either eliminate prevailing wage from school construction, or from all state-funded projects.

“Our members really need to understand how important prevailing wage is to their own paycheck and to the state’s construction industry,” said Patrick Devlin, secretary-treasurer of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council. “If repeal passes, wages will go down on state-funded work, and our contractors will have trouble winning bids on those jobs. It’s as simple as that. Removing that law will open up bidding for state jobs to contractors from who-knows-where, paying their people whatever they can get away with. That’s why we have to fight this, and we need our members to contact their legislators and tell them to keep prevailing wage.”

With only 12 Democrats in the 38-member Michigan Senate, prevailing wage stands a strong chance of being repealed in that body. But the odds of beating back repeal are better in the state House, where Democrats won five more seats in last November ’s election but are still down by a 59-51 margin.

Fighting repeal won’t be easy: an “Action Plan” for this year released Jan. 30 by state House Republicans called prevailing wage repeal one of their top priorities. And, repealing the law is also a top priority of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.

“The prevailing wage repeal bills are sitting in committee,” said Michigan Laborers District Council Legislative Director Jonathan Byrd, “and it looks like the committee chairs won’t  move them until their leadership tells them to move. Once these transportation bills (to fund road and bridge repairs) are taken care of, I would expect prevailing wage to move up on their agenda. In the meantime, we’ve been doing a full-court press to lobby lawmakers about the importance of prevailing wage to our state. But we could really use some help from our people, and we’re urging them to contact their legislators.”

Of course, Gov. Rick Snyder could put an end to all of this, take a position, and announce that he will not sign prevailing wage repeal. He’s already said it’s “not on my agenda” and too “divisive,” – but that’s the same language he used regarding a right-to-work bill in Michigan. Then, he famously turned around and signed it during last December ’s Lame Duck session.

“I’d like the Governor to definitively say he’ll veto any changes on prevailing wage,” said Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, to MIRS News Service. “I’d like to see the governor say he would veto any changes to the Electoral College process (another GOP proposal that would permanently change the way votes are counted in state elections). These are things he’s said are not on his agenda. Well, guess what? We’ve heard that one before. And then we saw him do an about-face and cram right-to-work through in Lame Duck. So I would say that unless he’s going to make definitive statements of that nature, we’re going to remain very concerned. And even if he does, looking at his track record, I think there’s a lot of trust issues to overcome, but I think that would go a long way.”