The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, February 26, 2016

Trades counter prevailing wage repeal effort with phone banks, face time

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

LANSING - It's widely known that the effort to repeal Michigan's Prevailing Wage Act of 1965 via a petition drive has been bolstered by organizers like the anti-union Associated Builders and Contractors of Michigan and contributions from billionaire backers like the DeVos family of Grand Rapids.

Now, outreach efforts are under way to help educate union members about the benefits of prevailing wage and to urge action to help stop the anti-prevailing wage effort.

The Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council, together with Michigan AFL-CIO, are undertaking phone bank efforts to help thwart the prevailing wage repeal petition. They're contacting building trades union members and talking to them about why they shouldn't sign the prevailing wage repeal petitions that are currently being circulated statewide, and urging them to contact their state lawmaker.

The phone bankers are gathering some revealing - and sometimes disappointing - information. "We're finding that union members really don't know a lot about prevailing wage," said Luke Canfora, a Michigan AFL-CIO organizer for the effort. "But we're using the opportunity to talk to them about it, and urge them to decline to sign the petition."

Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council Business Representative Hugh Coward, who has taken part in three phone banks where union members call union members/families, estimated that about half of the telephone respondents are unaware of what prevailing wage is. He said despite the lack of knowledge about the importance of prevailing wage, the system works well.

"It's an effective campaign, and it's worthwhile," Coward said. "It's a chance to talk to people about prevailing wage, and it's an opportunity to educate."

Coward said the 8-10 union volunteers who have taken part in each of the phone banks are taking advantage of a phone system held by the Michigan AFL-CIO, which auto-dials select union households and only connects the volunteers to callers when the phone is answered by someone. Coward said the volunteers offer a "30-second elevator speech" about why it's important to support prevailing wage. The system then allows the callers to ask respondents if they wish to be automatically connected to their state lawmaker's office, and once connected express their support for prevailing wage. "A lot of people don't want to be put on the spot, but a lot are OK with it," Coward said.

The phone banks direct calls to union members who live in districts held by key state Republican lawmakers whose vote could be crucial for saving the Michigan Prevailing Wage Act. Future phone banks are planned every week in the foreseeable future.

Beyond the call banks, building trades unions are also planning on holding informational meetings at various areas around the state, with union members invited to learn about prevailing wage. The first was scheduled to be held Feb. 22 in Detroit.

The phone banks and face to face meetings are part of a union-backed effort to hamper a second petition drive - which is ongoing - to derail the Michigan Prevailing Wage Act. The repeal effort is being sponsored by a front group called Protect Michigan Taxpayers, with backing by the ABC and their billionaire sponsors. The group currently has petition gatherers fanned out across Michigan, with the goal of gathering 252,523 signatures in the effort to overturn the state's prevailing wage law.

Protect Michigan Taxpayers' first effort failed miserably: the petition company they hired last year, Silver Bullet, Inc. of Las Vegas, turned in 390,000 signatures for approval to the State Board of Canvassers to repeal prevailing wage, but 43 percent of them were ruled invalid. An examination of the signed sheets found more than 50,000 duplicate signatures and thousands of non-registered voters signing.

Undaunted by the $1 million-plus they threw out the window in their first failed effort, Protect Michigan Taxpayers is undertaking a second effort using a Brighton-based firm to collect the signatures, National Petition Management.

Unfortunately, Michigan law is fairly scant on what petitioners can say or not say to potential signers, leading to false claims that the petitions will save taxpayers money, fix the roads or even raise the pay of construction workers.

David Waymire, spokesman for the pro-prevailing wage group Protect Michigan Jobs, said cross-referencing those signatures found that "tens of thousands" of union members signed the petition to repeal prevailing wage last year. "ABC and its co-conspirator, Michigan Freedom Fund, are willing to do and say anything in their efforts to cut pay for skilled trades construction workers in the state," Waymire said.