The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, December 08, 2000

Privatization plan is latest threat to prevailing wage

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

LANSING - In the months before the Nov. 7 general election, there were dire predictions from leaders in the Democratic Party about the consequences of not bringing a democratic majority back to the Michigan House, and restoring some balance to state government.

The election is over, and state voters continued to hand the reins of state government over to Republicans, and the lack of checks and balances is starting to hit home. The construction industry's prevailing wage protections are among the first on the hit list.

On Nov. 14, the Michigan Senate adopted bills 1356 and 1357, and if they pass the House and get the signature of Gov. John Engler, they would create a legislative mechanism by which school districts can shift the ownership of their school buildings to private developers, in effect privatizing them.

Developers could then perform new construction or remodel existing school buildings without the worker wage protections assured by the Michigan Prevailing Wage Act. In this case, furniture giant Steelcase would be the private developer.

"The bill creates a massive loophole to kill prevailing wage coverage in schools," said Michigan Building Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Tom Boensch. He said an attempt to amend the bills to include prevailing wage provisions in the privatization plan failed 17-16, with four Republican senators joining Democrats.

The legislation that passed the Senate specifically applies to the Grand Rapids School District, "but that can change overnight" to affect the entire state, Boensch said.

Michigan AFL-CIO Political Director Tim Hughes said the bills have a good chance of passage in the legislature, but ironically, Gov. John Engler hasn't signaled his approval. His problem with the legislation, Hughes said, is that shifting the ownership of the schools from public to private hands would actually result in a revenue reduction for the state treasury.

The Michigan Building Trades Council was lobbying legislators in the state House last week to make sure prevailing wage protections apply if the privatization plan is implemented.