The last few weeks have seen Republicans across the country rolling back worker protections. In Congress, Republicans have made it easier to fire public employees without due process and have proposed new laws attacking unions. Now, Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) is going after prevailing wage.
The Davis-Bacon Act was passed in 1931 and requires certain workers, generally the Building Trades and government contractors, to pay a prevailing wage. This wage is set by the Labor Department based on the going rate in an area for the contracted job. This rate, which takes into account union and non-union wages on a job, keeps wages fair and allows good contractors the ability to compete. The point of the legislation was to make sure that Federal money was being spent to invest in communities and not drive down wages. This important piece of legislation has helped fuel many and local governments to enact a prevailing wage requirement of their own and drive up construction wages across the board. These higher wages have also led to safer workplaces as many worksites with higher paying employees are better trained with certified union safety advocates.
On Wednesday, January 11th, as many bills were being introduced at the beginning of the session, Senator Flake, snuck in a bill to repeal the prevailing wage requirement under Davis-Bacon for Federal infrastructure construction projects. This would mean that the trillions of dollars that Trump is planning to spend on fixing America’s roads, bridges and other failing infrastructure projects would go to companies that are paying their workers poverty wages to do dangerous work. No longer could a union contractor bid the union wage on a dangerous project, because they will get underbid by a non-union contractor who is not concerned with safety and is looking to cut as many corners as possible to keep costs low and profits high. Studies have shown that when prevailing wage laws are instituted, unscrupulous contractors who compete by hiring low-skilled labor, cheating on payroll taxes, or risking safety concerns at construction sites are discouraged from bidding on projects. Senator Flake is looking to empower these unscrupulous contractors.