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Gov Brings Prevailing Wage Back From GOP-Dug Grave

October 12, 2021

Republican lawmakers in 2018 killed prevailing wage, but three years later, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is resurrecting it for state construction contracts.

How can that be, considering the GOP successfully repealed the state requirement to pay the prevailing wage on public projects through a citizens’ initiative?

It turns out when they repealed the requirement, they didn’t ban it from being enacted again, the Governor said Thursday.

Whitmer issued an executive directive to order the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget (DTMB), which oversees state procurement, to incorporate prevailing wages when negotiating state construction projects.

The move sets up yet another legal showdown between the executive and legislative branch over the extent of her powers. It also comes a couple weeks after both the operating engineers and the laborers participated in a forum during the Republican leadership conference on Mackinac Island.

“By reinstating prevailing wage, we are ensuring that working people get treated with dignity and respect, which starts with a fair wage,” Whitmer said in a statement.

To that, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) noted that more union members are migrating to Republicans because of policies that support a Line 5 tunnel. Now, Whitmer is “trying to buy them back.”

“This isn’t policy. It’s overt partisan politics. And it smells of desperation,” Shirkey said. “They won’t fall for this cheap stunt. These are people who work too hard to be fooled.”

In 2019, the Governor issued an executive directive that included having DTMB review procurement procedures, according to the Governor’s office.

Now comes Thursday’s action to incorporate the prevailing wage requirement for state contractors and subcontractors, with the idea of making sure workers get a decent wage and state projects are done in a quality way.

The Governor made the announcement to applause at a Lansing-area union training center Thursday, flanked by representatives from the Plumbers & Pipefitters, HVAC Mechanics, International Union of Painters, the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights, as well as the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council.

“As governor, I am proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with working people and unions who built the middle class. By reinstating prevailing wage, we are ensuring working people can earn a decent standard of living, saving taxpayers money and time on crucial infrastructure projects, and offering Michigan a highly trained workforce to rely on as we build up our roads and bridges, replace lead pipes, install high-speed internet, and more.”

AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber said the return of prevailing wage in state contracts “means safe, quality construction projects completed by highly skilled workers. It means working women and men getting paid a decent wage that can support a family. It means no more race to the bottom to find the cheapest labor while companies pad their bottom line. It also means a fair competitive bidding process for contractors.”

The Republican vote to repeal the prevailing wage requirement in 2018 came after a successful initiative petition drive got the measure before the Legislature with a chance to pass it with no threat of a gubernatorial veto.

One of the major funders of that initiative campaign — the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) of Michigan — said Thursday that “our members will not back down from fighting for their livelihoods because Whitmer’s job-killing agenda has no place in Michigan’s construction industry.”

ABC of Michigan President Jimmy Greenesaid the Governor “has spent the last two years ignoring state lawmakers while she destroys our jobs and economy. Now she’s signing illegal orders to undo laws that protect workers and taxpayers.”

A whole host of right-leaning groups spoke out against Whitmer’s move Thursday, with the Michigan Freedom Fund calling it “patently illegal,” the Michigan Republican Party casting it as “another reckless and out-of-touch power grab” and the Mackinac Center said Whitmer was siding with unions over taxpayers.

“While we appreciate that the Governor got used to unilaterally making decisions over the past two years, we are disappointed that she would once again be so blatant in her abuse of power and actually believe that it is in her constitutional purview to reinstate a law that had been repealed by the Legislature through an initiative petition,” said Amanda Fisher, assistant state director for the National Federation of Independent Business in Michigan, in a statement Thursday.

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