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Michigan’s Prevailing Wage Law Repealed

June 12, 2018

Article courtesy MIRS News

Michigan’s prevailing wage law, created in 1965 to require that construction workers on state building projects are paid the prevailing union wage, was repealed when the House passed the citizens’ initiative led by the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) Wednesday.

The House’s 56-53 vote in front of a gallery of union workers came a little more than an hour after the Senate’s 23-14 vote in support of the repeal. 

The vote came a week after the state Supreme Court ordered the State Board of Canvassers to certify the petitions submitted by the Protecting Michigan Taxpayers (PMT). 

The Secretary of State ruled PMT had 268,403 valid signatures, more than the 252,523 valid signatures needed. The skilled trades unions had hoped the courts would throw out more petitions since a high number of circulators put in phony home addresses on their petitions. 

The courts ruled these circulators could be charged with criminal penalties, but it doesn’t invalidate their petitions. 

ABC, the Freedom Fund and other free-market conservative groups had pushed for the repeal, arguing it would provide more competition among construction companies, which they claim would lower costs for taxpayers. 

In the Senate, where the initiative passed 23-14, Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) said after the vote, “Taxpayers win. This is money they won’t have to spend in excessive costs on public works projects.” 

In the House, Rep. Gary Glenn  (R-Williams Twp.) began the House debate by calling the prevailing wage “an antiquated and discriminatory, protectionist price-fixing scheme.” He said repealing it will “save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars every year.” 

Glenn noted that buildings constructed for the private sector are built without paying the prevailing wage. 

“Are private-sector buildings falling down? Are buildings in the private sector any less quality,” Glenn asked. 

Rep. Pamela Hornberger (R-Chesterfield Twp.) argued the law only benefits 20 percent who are working on state construction projects. The other 80 percent of workers are “not at poverty wages,” she said. 

Democrats have voted to keep prevailing wage, on the argument that prevailing wage laws mandate agreements that have working men and women paid responsibly and assure quality work in public projects. 

“When you vote to repeal the prevailing wage, you send a message to people getting up tomorrow morning that Republicans don’t care about workers,” said Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint). 

Meanwhile, in the House Rep. Jewell Jones (D-Inkster) contended without prevailing wage, state-paid projects “will be more time-consuming and less safe. Construction can be more dangerous with an unskilled or under-skilled workforce.” 

Rep. Tim Greimel (D-Auburn Hills) accused proponents of “speaking out of both sides of their mouth.” 

“The proponents of this initiative have said there is a shortage of skilled trade workers in this state. This initiative legislation would lower wages. The law of supply and demand means this initiative will create a further shortage of workers,” Greimel said. 

He also contended the initiative will undermine private sector training that unions are already providing and the state will have to increasingly subsidize skilled trades training. 

Sens. Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba), Mike Nofs (R-Battle Creek), Tory Rocca (R-Sterling Heights) and Dale Zorn (R-Ida) joined all 10 Senate Democrats in voting no. 

Reps. Joe Bellino (R-Monroe), Gary Howell (R-North Branch), Martin Howrylak (R-Troy), Jason Sheppard (R-Monroe),  Jeff Yaroch (R-Richmond), Brett Roberts (R-Charlotte) and Steve Marino (R-Harrison Twp.) joined all 46 House Democrats in voting no. 

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