Another blow for labor: Prevailing wage repealed by Republicans in Michigan Legislature

June 06–In the latest blow for organized labor, Michigan’s prevailing wage law, which requires union scale wages on public construction projects, was repealed by Republicans in the Michigan Legislature on Wednesday.

Lawmakers who supported the repeal said it was needed to save taxpayer dollars on public projects.

Projects paying prevailing wages “cost 10-15% more than if it was built by the private sector,” said Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, who has introduced the bill to repeal in every legislative session. “The time has come to eliminate this outdated law and save our taxpayers money.”

State Rep. Gary Glenn, R-Williams Township, called the prevailing wage a “discriminatory and racist relic of the past … Repealing this antiquated price-fixing scheme will save hundreds of millions of dollars.”

But four Republicans joined all the Democrats in the Senate on a 23-14 vote to oppose the measure, which was brought to the Legislature after a group affiliated with the Associated Builders and Contractors organization gathered enough signatures to get the measure either put on the Nov. 6 general election ballot or be voted on by the Legislature.

The repeal will go into effect without the need for a signature from Gov. Rick Snyder, who had threatened to veto a bill introduced last year, because Protecting Michigan Taxpayers snagged 382,700 signatures to get the issue before the Legislature. The state Board of Canvasses certified that 262,736 of those were from valid registered voters. The GOP majority in both the House and Senate gave the measure immediate effect, which means it will become official law when it’s enrolled in the next few days.

The House of Representatives also narrowly voted 56-53, mostly along party lines, to repeal the law.

Republicans who joined all the Democrats voting no included Reps. Joseph Bellino, of Monroe; Gary Howell of North Branch; Martin Howrylak of Troy; Steve Marino of Mt. Clemens; Brett Roberts of Charlotte; Jason Sheppard of Lambertville and Jeff Yaroch of Richmond, and Sens. Mike Nofs of Battle Creek, Dale Zorn of Ida, Tory Rocca of Sterling Heights and Tom Casperson of Escanaba. All the other Republicans in the House and Senate voted for the repeal.

“This isn’t just about money, it’s about Michiganders being able to make it. These are men and women who earned by the sweat of their brow,” said Sen. Coleman Young II, D-Detroit. “I’m begging you, for the sake of working families across the state of Michigan, we cannot get rid of prevailing wage.”

Democrats argued that repealing the wage would lead to lower quality work in the state because unions are providing training and apprenticeships for skilled trade workers and wouldn’t without the prevailing wage. Others said that the critical shortage of skilled trade workers in the state would only grow with the repeal.

And other Democrats predicted dire consequences for Republicans at the ballot box in November.

“Attacks on working people have consequences. We’re going to spend $100 million to increase skilled trades employees through the Marshall Plan and then pay them less so they leave the state immediately,” said Sen. Curtis Hertel, D-East Lansing, referring to a plan proposed by Snyder to invest in more training for workers. “While you take their jobs, access to health care and wages, at the end of the day, they get to take your jobs away in November.”

But state Rep. Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, said by repealing the law, more money would go into schools and roads.

“These are our constituents, and while not all of us are part of a union, all of our families certainly are taxpayers,” he said. “I choose to side with taxpayers.”

The vote was the latest blow to organized labor in Michigan. The state passed the controversial right-to-work law in 2012, which makes it illegal to require payment of union dues as a condition of employment. That proposal produced fierce protests from thousands of union members at the Capitol.

Several hundred union members showed up for the debate Wednesday and filled the gallery above the House of Representatives’ chamber, cheering and booing lawmakers before the vote. They erupted after the vote with one audience member yelling, “Thanks for screwing my family,” and another hollering “Go to hell” at Republicans.

Before the debate began, union members said that other states that repealed the prevailing wage had experienced lower wages, higher cost projects and less training for skilled trades workers. They pointed to Indiana, which repealed its prevailing wage law in 2015 and where construction job wages have declined by 8.5%.

“The best workers in the state will be forced to leave at a time when we need all our workers the most,” predicted Jirmere Moses, business representative for Michigan Laborers Local 1191. “Michigan is on a construction boom. And if you repeal prevailing wage, Michigan will be left with out-of-state contractors who don’t play by our rules.”

Jessica Knight, an apprentice with Operating Engineers Local 324 and a 15-year veteran of the U.S. Army Reserves, said the skilled trades training she got through prevailing wage has been invaluable.

“The training programs are funded by prevailing wage and they make sure you gain the experience and make you better and better at your job,” she said. “The skilled trades make sense for veterans because they have the same structure, focus on the mission and constant training.”

This article provided by NewsEdge.