Once again the Michigan Senate is moving to repeal the state’s “prevailing wage” law that has been in place for half a century, the law the Republicans once claimed would wreck the economy but which did the opposite, helping to sustain the once-growing middle class. They’re singing the same right wing anthem again, the one about saving the taxpayers money when what they are really seeking is increased profits for contractors by helping them depress workers’ wages. (It’s always worth noting that when the GOP talks about taxpayers and labor in the same sentence, they imply that those who labor are a group apart and not taxpayers too. Have to keep that “we/they” thing going.)
Republican Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekoff would have us believe a repeal has nothing to do with the road construction projects we hope will occur soon after some type of funding method is approved. He claims the current Davis-Bacon wage act at the federal level will ensure union level wages on Michigan road projects because they involve federal money. What he neglects to say is that Republicans are also attempting repeal of Davis-Bacon at the federal level as well because they think prevailing wages are too high. Too high! Got that?
This is the party whose legion of presidential hopefuls are suddenly and inexplicably expressing “concerns” about growing income inequality, while their legislators are cold-cocking workers once again by repealing laws that assure that the “locally prevailing wage” would be paid to workers in private companies that are awarded government project contracts.
During the aftermath of Katrina President George W. Bush scuttled fair wages by suspending the Davis-Bacon Wage Act that demanded “prevailing wages.” But there was a very loud and persistent backlash in Louisiana and other Katrina hit states that caused a reinstatement, something motivated by Bush’s personal embarrassment over having ignored the catastrophe as it rolled out, by anger among his base in the damaged Red States, and by the fact that only immigrants were willing to work in deplorable and dangerous conditions for the lower wages.
As Michigan’s Senate debates the repeal, assuming there will be any real discussion at all, we’ll hear that the GOP is merely seeking more competitive bidding for state projects. They’ll claim this saves the taxpayers money. Labor, the ones who actually do the work on construction projects, have no input on wages included in the project bidding process without a prevailing wage law in place. Lower wages will pretty much guarantee poor work and will drive down other wages in the area. This means lower income tax revenues to fund all the state’s costs. The only winners in repeal would be the contractors themselves.
Devaluing labor is an ongoing mistake because it strangles consumerism and because productivity is at an all time high and should be fairly compensated. (If wages actually matched productivity workers would be earning $35/hour rather than the $21/hour they make now.) Repealing the prevailing wage law related to government contracts further greases the middle class slide to the bottom. And the next time you hear a Republican giving lip service to income inequality, take note that his fingers are probably crossed and he can’t look you in the eye.
[Photo credit: Anne C. Savage, special to Eclectablog]