The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, March 09, 2018

Prevailing wage repeal signatures under state scrutiny

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

LANSING - There is no exact timeline for the Michigan Bureau of Elections to complete its review of 4,443 signature samples on a petition intended to repeal the state's Prevailing Wage Act. But it's likely that it will take a week or two more, with the review process having started Feb. 14.

"When the review is complete, the findings will be submitted to the state Board of Canvassers, they will schedule a meeting and the results of the review will be made public ahead of that meeting," said Michigan Bureau of Elections spokesman Fred Woodhams. It will be up to the Board of Canvassers to vote up or down on whether the petition effort dies or moves on to the state Legislature.

The ongoing enhanced signature review process is unusual for the state -Woodhams estimated that the last one took place about a decade ago. The process has been propelled by Protect Michigan Jobs, a front group for the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council and affiliated union contractor associations. In December, PMJ looked closely at a sampling of 535 prevailing wage repeal petition signatures submitted to the state by Protect Michigan Taxpayers (PMT), a front group for the Associated Builders and Contractors - Michigan. 

The discrepancies in the first round of signature samples were excessive - the state found among the 535 signatures a valid count of 370, just under the mark of the 373 valid signatures that are necessary in the state's formula for it to certify the petition effort. At a Jan. 20 meeting of the state Board of Canvassers, the panel voted unanimously to trigger the examination of a greater sampling - a review of a total of 4,443 names.

The Michigan Bureau of Elections makes copies of the petition signature sheets available to challengers. And on the Feb. 14 deadline to submit a challenge to the greater sampling, the union-backed PMJ did just that. Protect Michigan Jobs found reason to protest the validity of 1,850 signatures, which would make 2,593 names valid. But that's far less than the 2,954 signatures that are required for the state to validate the petition effort, under the state Bureau of Elections formula. 

The ongoing state Bureau of Elections count is independent of the count submitted by Protect Michigan Jobs. But if the state agrees with the PMJ's findings that there are excessive invalid signatures, the ABC/PMT petition effort will be voided.

"Since we have extra time as the Bureau of Elections is performing their examination of the signatures," said Patrick Devlin, secretary-treasurer of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council, "we are continuing to more fully examine the signatures to find more discrepancies in order to build our case that this petition effort should be overturned. Again."

The ABC/Protect Michigan Taxpayers also spent more than $1 million in 2015 on a similar petition drive, only to see the state Board of Canvassers throw out their effort because of the presence of excessive duplicate signatures and unregistered voters. This time the union-backed challengers have found a rich pool of targets to examine and exclude: the collectors of the signatures. In many cases the review found that the collectors'  signatures should be invalid because they don't provide a residential address, for example, as state law requires. If the petition collectors are found invalid, then all eight names above their signature on the petition sheets are declared invalid. 

"We are very confident that our challenges are again going to stand up to scrutiny by the state Bureau of Elections," Devlin said. 

In the event that the state Bureau of Elections approves sufficient signatures, likely triggering passage by the state Board of Canvassers, then the petition drive question goes before the state Legislature. State lawmakers will be asked to approve legislation repealing the Michigan Prevailing Wage Act. If both the state House and Senate approve the legislation, prevailing wage is repealed. If they don't approve the measure - which is considered unlikely, given the conservative majorities in both houses - the matter goes to a vote of the people in November.

As a backup plan, the union-backed Protect Michigan Jobs is undertaking an ongoing petition drive to enact a new prevailing wage law, Construction Workers Fair Wage Act. Petition sheets are available for your signature at you local union hall. You need to be a registered voter to sign.