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Prevailing wage repeal - what's next? Ongoing state count to determine if there are enough valid signatures

Date Posted: November 24 2017

LANSING - What's next in the effort to repeal the Michigan Prevailing Wage Act?

Protecting Michigan Taxpayers, the front group for the Associated Builders and Contractors - Michigan, turned in more than 380,000 petition signatures on Nov. 3 in an effort intended to repeal the state's prevailing wage law. 

Now the signature sheets are in the collective lap of the state's Bureau of Elections, which has 60 days to review the veracity of the signatures. The names are also being reviewed by attorneys and other representatives of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council.

Based on a percentage of voters in the previous statewide election, only 252,000 valid signatures are necessary for the petition drive to be a success for PMT. If the state Board of Canvassers certifies that enough legitimate signatures have been gathered, a bill mirroring the petition language will be placed before lawmakers in the state House and Senate for a vote in January. 

If a majority of House and Senate lawmakers vote to repeal the Michigan Prevailing Wage Act of 1965, the effect is immediate. If enough House or Senate lawmakers can be convinced to vote no, the repeal question goes on the statewide ballot in November 2016.

"So for our members, the most immediate thing they can do to help right now is to contact their legislators and urge them to vote no if the repeal question comes before them," said Jeannette Bradshaw, recording secretary/registrar for IBEW Local 58. "And don't be afraid to talk up the issue with friends and family. Because repealing prevailing wage is going to lower wages."

According to a March report by the Economic Policy Institute, "unsurprisingly, median construction wages are far lower (21.9 percent) in the 20 states that have no prevailing wage law than in the states that still do protect prevailing wages. Even after taking into account cost-of-living differences, median wages are almost 7 percent lower in states where there is no prevailing wage law."

Gov. Rick Snyder, who supports prevailing wage, does not have any official role in this petition effort, a process which is allowed by the Michigan Constitution. But it's his threat of a veto that ended the legislative effort last year, and prompted the costly petition drive by the ABC-Michigan. State records indicate they have spent about $1.2 million so far on this year's effort.

"If the prevailing wage is repealed, it would literally take food off the tables and money out of the pockets of working men and women in Michigan, and out of the Michigan economy," said Lance Binoniemi to the Detroit Free Press. He's vice president of government affairs for the Michigan Infrastructure & Transportation Association, a group of union and nonunion construction companies.

“Michigan citizens have spoken by signing this petition that will finally allow for a free and fair public construction bidding process that protects Michigan workers and Michigan taxpayers,” said Jeff Wiggins, president of Protecting Michigan Taxpayers. “Eliminating the state government’s costly prevailing wage mandate will save taxpayers millions of dollars every year and ensure that hard work and open competition deliver Michigan residents the best quality product.”

That argument is highly suspect. Repeated academic studies, including one we highlighted in our last issue, have shown that the elimination of prevailing wage laws have had zero affect on state construction costs. Meanwhile, elimination of prevailing wage laws have led not only to lower worker wages, but also reduced resources to worker training and safety education.

If the state Legislature approves the ballot language and repeals the state prevailing wage law, the options for prevailing wage supporters are limited. Certainly, the chances of voting in a worker-friendly Legislature in Lansing next year is nearly impossible. Republicans enjoy a 58 percent majority in the House and an overwhelming 71 percent majority in the Senate, according to Ballotpedia. The only likely viable path to resurrecting prevailing wage is a difficult, labor-led, costly petition drive, that would have to take place in the winter and early spring of next year when potential signers are usually behind closed doors.

"Of course it's frustrating to see them turn in the petitions, but let's see how the signature count goes, and then how everything else plays out after that," said Patrick Devlin, secretary-treasurer of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council. "There are no good things that will happen to our industry with the repeal of prevailing wage, except maybe to the bottom-line profits of the ABC contractors who are pushing this repeal effort."