The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, November 02, 2018

Want prevailing wage back? The process starts with the Nov. 6 ballot

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

This year's raucous argument before the state Legislature over the question of whether to repeal the Michigan Prevailing Wage Act essentially came down to partisan politics. 

The petition initiative sponsored this year by the Associated Builders and Contractors - Michigan to repeal the prevailing wage law was presented to the Michigan Legislature for a yes or no vote on June 6. 
The Senate voted 23-14, with four Republicans joining every Democrat in opposition. The House supported the repeal 56-53, with every Democrat in opposition joined by seven Republicans who voted no.

A "yes" vote would have moved the question of whether to repeal the law to the statewide ballot on Nov. 6, but it never got that far. Simply put, there has not been a more important vote to the state's construction workers, both union and nonunion, since the prevailing wage law was first adopted in 1965. 

Prevailing wage added stability and certainty to an ever-changing industry. Even detractors of the law didn't argue with academic studies that have found rescinding the law would lead to lower industry wages, perhaps by as much as 10 percent. There's also not much argument that bidding on public projects will be thrown open to all manner of low-road contractors winning contracts based on paying workers lower wages. Unions have maintained that a lower wage industry is going to lead to less collectively bargained money available for worker training. 

A particularly vocal vice president at Barton Malow, Michael Stobak, whose company hires union and nonunion workers, said prevailing wage repeal was a "disaster" for Michigan when the law was suspended by a court order for two and a half years in the mid-1990s. "I was there when we suspended the prevailing wage laws in the ’90s, and I saw how it devastated our skilled workforce for publicly funded projects," Stobak wrote in January. "Facing reduced hourly rates, our workforce became transient. Decades of loyalty was supplanted by a revolving workforce forced to focus on finding the best pay. The best workers were lured away by increases in hourly wages, making it harder to complete the schools our children attend, the roads we drive on and other infrastructure projects on time or on-budget."

What the governor and state Legislature takes away, can also be regained by voting for candidates who support prevailing wage - and the next opportunity to do so is on Tuesday, Nov. 6.

Following are public statements on prevailing wage of Michigan's two candidates for governor, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer and Republican Bill Schuette.

Whitmer: Repeal of prevailing wage "is one of the dumbest votes the legislature has ever taken. All the happy talk about encouraging people to go into careers in the skilled trades will be directly undercut by repealing prevailing wage. That’s because this legislation will cut the wages of Michigan’s skilled tradesmen and women, drive talented construction workers out of state, and make it easier to hire unskilled out-of-state workers who don’t have a clue how to fix our roads. 

The fact that Bill Schuette and Brian Calley support this legislation should tell every Michigan voter that they’re not on the side of regular working families. As governor, I’ll make sure we fix the damn roads the right way using the right mix and materials, and by making sure the roads get built by well-trained Michigan construction workers so our roads stay fixed.”

Schuette: (Under the headline of an Oakland Press guest column, which read Prevailing wage not best for Michigan.)  "This proposal would repeal a decades-old government mandate known as “prevailing wage” that benefits a select few by requiring that union contracts be given a monopoly in determining work and wage classifications on state-government construction projects. It’s a law so restrictive that Michigan is currently one of only six states that are similarly in statute. The current system is unfair, outdated and doesn’t work toward moving Michigan forward."