The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, April 06, 2018

State review continues of petitions aimed at repealing prevailing wage

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

LANSING - No news is good news as the Michigan Bureau of Elections staff continues a weeks-long effort to verify the validity of 4,443 signatures on petition sheets intended to repeal the Michigan Prevailing Wage Act.

An initial sample examination by the state of 535 names in the petition effort found enough questionable signatures to trigger the greater review of the names. The legal team for the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council and its front group, Protecting Michigan Jobs, found that irregularities among the signature gatherers - who improperly provided addresses of empty buildings or UPS stores as their residence - have been a fertile source of errors. Finding that a signature gatherer is ineligible makes ineligible all of the signatures above his or her name - amounting to as many as eight names on the petition page.

"We're pleased that the Bureau of Elections is taking as much time as it has taken in order to get this right," said Patrick Devlin, secretary-treasurer of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council. "Our subsequent examinations of the petition signatures after we first made the challenge shows that greater scrutiny of the signatures is a process that will work in our favor."

Protect Michigan Jobs initially issued a formal protest of the signature samples by the first deadline issued by the Bureau of Election, on Feb. 14, finding that more than 40 percent of the signatures should be discarded. That triggered the greater sampling of 4,443 names for examination of the total 378,000 signatures that were turned in by Protect Michigan Taxpayers, the front group for the Associated Builders and Contractors of Michigan. The ABC and their big-money backers spent in excess of $1 million to collect the prevailing wage repeal signatures last year - well more than the 252,000 verified names that were necessary for the repeal issue to go for a vote before the state Legislature.

A Bureau of Elections spokesman said their is no timeline for the signature examination process to end. Once their enhanced review is complete, they will make a recommendation to the Michigan Board of Canvassers, who will schedule a meeting and vote to accept or deny the petition effort.

A similar $1 million-plus effort by Protect Michigan Taxpayers/ABC failed miserably in 2015, with thousands of duplicate signatures and unregistered voters signing the petitions - amounting to a 43 percent ineligible rate, according to the state. Devlin said during this effort, the building trades/Protect Michigan Jobs legal team focused on the irregularities among the petition gatherers.  

"We're kind of in uncharted waters with looking closely at the petition gatherers, but we are very confident that based on what we're seeing, this petition drive should also be overturned," Devlin said.  

Numerous studies have shown that repealing statewide prevailing wage laws has had zero effect on saving taxpayer dollars, but has had a real effect on reducing wages in the construction industry. 

The latest study, The Effects of Repealing Common Construction Wage in Indiana, was performed by Midwest Economic Policy Institute and looked at actual economic data to evaluate the impact of repeal on ten construction market outcomes. The data show that prevailing wage repeal, instituted in Indiana in July 2015, decreased the wages of blue-collar construction workers by 8.5 percent, on average. The average number of bidders on public projects didn't change, even though proponents say that repeal would open the doors for greater bidding. Worker productivity suffered somewhat, as did turnover, the report found.