It’s looking like “prevailing wage” will be an issue in the Legislature’s new session. It deals with pay rates for construction workers on publicly funded projects. And, it’s an issue that divides Governor Rick Snyder and the Legislature’s Republican leaders.
Bills to repeal Michigan’s 50-year-old law that requires contractors to pay union-scale wages on public projects were among the first to be introduced this year.
Republican leaders in the Legislature support the repeal. Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) is one of the sponsors. He says it allows the state and local governments to bid out projects at a lower cost.
But Governor Rick Snyder does not support the repeal. He says prevailing wage encourages people to consider careers in the building trades.
The issue also pits non-union contractors against trade unions and construction firms that hire union workers.
Mike Jackson of the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters says the state already suffers from a shortage of skilled trades workers.
"If cutting pay and benefits is what Senator Meekhof and his stooges want, then they should lead by example and volunteer to cut their own salaries and healthcare benefits first," he said.
Jeff Wiggins is with the Associated Builders and Contractors. It’s a trade group for non-union builders. He says repealing prevailing wage is a high priority in this session, and he’s hoping for better luck in 2017.
“We’re just getting started,” he said. “This is the third week of the first month of the first year of a two-year legislative term. If this were a football game, we’re just kicking off, so there’s a whole lot of game to play.”
Wiggins’ group spearheaded a petition drive in 2015 to get the Legislature to adopt a law that could be enacted without the governor’s signature.
The petition drive collapsed after a paid signature gathering firm illegally collected thousands of duplicate names. The contractors sued the firm and the case was settled out of court.
Wiggins says his group has not ruled another petition drive before the end of this session.