The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, January 20, 2017

Prevailing wage repeal: we've heard this bad song before

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

LANSING  - A push to overturn Michigan's Prevailing Wage Act of 1965 died in 2016, when a petition drive's sponsors likely pulled a rug out from under the expensive drive in order to stop to the effort. The effort to repeal prevailing wage came to a more notorious end in 2015, when another petition drive abruptly halted when it was found to have hundreds of thousands of duplicate and otherwise invalid signatures.

So with Gov. Rick Snyder an ally of prevailing wage, apparently ready to issue a veto to any repeal effort, the law is likely secure... right? Uh, no.

"This is going to be a new Legislature, and it's going to be even more conservative than what we have had in the past, if that's possible," said Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council Legislative Director Patrick "Shorty" Gleason. "So no, we can never rest thinking that prevailing wage is secure."

The repeal of the Michigan Prevailing Wage Act was made the top legislative priority for ruling Republicans in the state Legislature at the beginning of their term two years ago. And in 2015, the state Senate voted to repeal the law. The state House, with a large Republican majority, would likely also have voted to repeal prevailing wage if Gov. Snyder had signaled he would sign the bill. But Snyder has said he supports the law as a way for the industry to attract and retain construction workers.

To circumvent the governor's veto, the anti-union Associated Builders and Contractors, funded by big money from the Devos family of Grand Rapids, tried and failed with the pair of aformentioned petition drives intended to repeal the law.

Perhaps a third effort will do the trick? An early January Detroit News article said Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) "said last week that he looks forward to a revived petition drive that would allow the Legislature to bypass Snyder if enough valid signatures are gathered and repeal the prevailing wage without needing Snyder’s signature."

Obviously, Republican lawmakers haven't forgotten their vendetta against the law. But in an ironic twist, both Meekhoff and new state House Speaker Tom Leonard (R-Dewitt) have both place enhanced access to skilled trades training at the top of their to-do list this legislative session.

"Of course, just about all of the state's building trades unions already have had skilled trades training available for the past century, at no cost to taxpayers, but that's not going to mean much to these lawmakers," said Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Patrick Devlin. "And you'd think that they would understand, like the governor seems to understand, that decent wages, pensions and good training programs brought about by the prevailing wage are what helps keep people in the construction industry. But that doesn't seem to sink in, and we have to keep fighting this fight for fair wages and benefits in construction."