The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, January 15, 2016

Winter may bring a chill to prevailing wage repeal petition drive

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

LANSING - For everyone who would like to witness a second failed petition effort to repeal the Michigan's Prevailing Wage Act of 1965, it's OK to hope for a long, cold winter.

We tend to hibernate in Michigan, and in order to do their work indoors, signature gatherers usually have to get permission to work on private property. Outdoors, the ink in pens doesn't flow very well, potential signers don't want to stand around in cold weather listening to the spiel of a clipboard-holder, and there are simply far fewer targets available than in the summertime.

The weather in the coldest months of the year will likely be the greatest challenge faced by the petition gatherers, who must find 252,523 valid signatures by June 1, 2016 in order to place the question of repealing Michigan's prevailing wage law before the state Legislature. But whatever the weather, they also seemingly have limitless funds backing them to get the job done.

National Petition Management Inc. of Brighton has been hired to do the dirty work of the Associated Builders and Contractors and their front group, Protect Michigan Taxpayers. Their effort is likely being funded, again, by the DeVos family of Grand Rapids, who seem undaunted by the wasted spending of more than $1 million last year in a failed petition drive to repeal prevailing wage.

As we have noted, the company they hired last year, Silver Bullet, Inc., turned in 390,000 signatures to repeal prevailing wage for approval to the State Board of Canvassers, but 43 percent of them were ruled invalid, with more than 50,000 duplicate signatures and thousands of non-registered voters signing.

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. "It's a clear indication that they were lied to about the nature of the petition," he said. "And we clearly need to do a better job of educating union members to 'decline to sign.'"

Chris Fisher, the vice president of Protecting Michigan Taxpayers and president of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Michigan, publicly declared in November that the petition effort would being restarted, and the clock started ticking in early December on the 180-day window leading up to June 1 to gather the necessary signatures.

"Petition signatures have been collected in the Michigan winter time before, they'll be collected in winter time again, and they'll be collected in winter this time too," Fisher told MLive. But if gathering those signatures couldn't be done last summer and fall without cheating, it won't get any easier during the winter.

With all the money being thrown at last year's effort to repeal prevailing wage, few would have guessed that the ABC and the deep-pocketed and business-oriented DeVos family would turn into the gang that couldn't shoot straight. Michigan Bureau of Elections Director Chris Thomas called the historically low validation rate of signatures "disturbing." So there's hope that this year's effort will similarly come up short on signatures.

"We believe the prevailing wage repeal campaign was well aware that it was turning in fraudulent signatures, and have asked state officials to investigate," Waymire said. "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."

From the perspective of the ABC/Protect Michigan Jobs, those signatures need to be gathered by June 1 in order for an orderly process leading up to the Nov. 8 general election. With these petition-led lawmaking efforts, according to the Michigan Constitution, if the signature drive does collect enough valid signatures, the prevailing wage repeal question then goes before the state Legislature for a vote. Gov. Rick Snyder, who would likely veto prevailing wage repeal, doesn't have a say in the matter under the petition scenario. The Michigan Senate last year already voted to repeal prevailing wage.

In the state House, the vote would be expected to be close, and the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council and its affiliated unions have been urging their membership for months to contact their lawmaker to vote against prevailing wage repeal.

If the state Legislature votes down or fails to act on the petition language, the repeal question then goes before a statewide vote during the next general election, on Nov. 8.