Petition Launches to Keep Prevailing Wage

As efforts from opponents of the prevailing wage ramp up, proponents of the requirement that construction workers be paid union-scale wages on state-financed projects are launching a counter effort to keep the decades-old law in place.

The Prevailing Wage Law Act was established in 1965, and, simply put, without it, workers on state-financed or state-sponsored projects would be subject to receiving less pay and fewer, if any, benefits. The Associated Builders and Contractors of Michigan (ABC Michigan) is leading the push, for a third time in as many years, to repeal this law, with support from organizations like the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the DeVos-funded Michigan Freedom Fund.

The irony of this effort, of course, is that many of these same organization talk a big game about needing to embrace and uplift the skilled trades in Michigan, especially as the state acquires more companies needing such labor. In 2015, Governor Rick Snyder acknowledged as much when he vetoed legislation that sought to repeal the prevailing wage.

A week later, special interests filed a citizen’s initiative proposal – the only way to pass a law in Michigan without the signature of the governor or lieutenant governor – that sought to do what the Legislature could not succeed in doing. However, this second attempt ended when the vendor hired to circulate petitions failed to gather enough valid signatures to make the ballot.

Now those same groups are behind a third attempt to end the minimum wage, again using the citizen’s initiative route circumvent the need for the governor’s approval. If their petition is certified, the Legislature can adopt the petition as law within 40 days of receiving it.

That’s where Michigan Prevails and Protect Michigan Jobs comes in – two coalitions of groups representing the actual workers on these projects, who announced today they will lead a signature collection drive to keep the prevailing wage law in place.

“The state’s prevailing wage law is too important to the entire construction industry, both union and non-union, for us to let it be rescinded by a special interest group with deep-pocketed donors who don’t have the industry’s best interests at heart,” said Patrick Devlin, secretary-treasurer of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council. “It’s going to take a concerted effort across the state, but we’re determined to retain this law, which is vital to the state’s construction industry.”

The other concern at hand is that by having a prevailing wage law, both small and large companies alike can bid on state contracts since the wage consideration is effectively a non-factor. Ending prevailing wage, proponents say, could mean small, local construction companies would be less likely to be able to compete and in the long-term may be overrun by major corporations that can otherwise manage to pay workers less.

The state has itself created a “Going PRO” campaign to increase awareness and, ideally, interest in skilled trades jobs, and year after year has increased funding to help folks pay for schooling and training. What’s more, every year, when Snyder presents his budget to the Legislature, he or his officials talk about an ongoing skilled trades shortage in Michigan that needs to be filled if Michigan is to be competitive. One statistic claims the shortage is expected to continue through 2024 and that wages for such occupations are 45 percent higher than others, with $51,000 being the median annual salary for such positions.

And yet, the push to repeal prevailing wage continues, despite mounting evidence of what happens in other professions – most notably teaching – and with young people when the state takes away the ability to make a decent living and/or have reasonable benefits.

“Repealing prevailing wage takes money directly out of the pockets of Michigan’s hardworking men and women,” said Mike Crawford, executive director of Michigan Chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association. “Our goal is to let the people decide, and the petition drive will allow this issue to be put on the 2018 ballot.”

Danielle Emerson

Danielle Emerson