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House Effort to Restrict Labor Wage Law Fails

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By Jim Abrams, Associated Press – Saturday February 19

prevailing wage lawsWASHINGTON – The House early Saturday turned back an effort to suspend a Depression-era law, the Davis Bacon Act, that requires federal contractors to pay locally prevailing wage rates. The vote came amid heightened clashes between the two parties over labor rights.

Lawmakers voted 233-189 against barring spending on Davis-Bacon wage requirements on federal work projects for the remainder of this budget year. The measure was offered by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, as an amendment to a massive spending bill to keep the government running through Sept. 30,

Republicans have long targeted the 1931 law, saying it drives up the costs of public works projects and favors unionized companies over smaller firms that can’t pay higher wages.

Davis-Bacon enjoys strong support from Democrats and the King amendment, had it passed, would have met strong resistance in the Democratic-controlled Senate and opposition from President Barack Obama.

The vote came as Wisconsin’s new Republican Gov. Scott Walker has set off a firestorm of protests by seeking to curtail the collective bargaining rights of public workers and several other GOP-led states are looking to cut state worker benefits as part of budget-cutting efforts. Obama said in a radio interview that Walker’s legislation was an “assault on unions.”

The House this week also rejected a GOP proposal to eliminate funds for the National Labor Relations Board. The Republican spending bill would still cut $50 million, or 18 percent, from the agency that referees disputes between workers and employers.

King cited an analysis by the Heritage Foundation estimating that Davis-Bacon would add more than $10.9 billion to the deficit this year. He said locally prevailing wage rates tend to reflect the higher pay scale of union workers in the area and average some 22 percent above standard wage rates in locales.

Rep. Robert Andrews of New Jersey, a senior Democrat on the Education and the Workforce Committee, said there “was no basis in fact, it is more of an urban legend,” that adhering to prevailing wages drives up labor costs. He said that if accurately measured a prevailing wage doesn’t add to costs and promotes a stable local labor force.

Two years ago, when Democrats controlled the House, the chamber voted 284-140 to defeat a proposal to exempt wastewater infrastructure projects from Davis-Bacon rules.

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2 Responses to House Effort to Restrict Labor Wage Law Fails

  • Unfortunately, in my experience from working with contractors in the Greater Seattle area who pay their regular and prevailing wage to different projects, the Republicans are correct in saying it drives up the costs of public works projects.

    The reason is my clients simply add the additional cost to their bids. That means we taxpayers pay the difference.

    However, I don’t see any evidence that the Davis-Bacon Act favors unionized companies over smaller firms that can’t pay higher wages.

  • Hi Keith
    I think over the years that many people forget why the Davis-Bacon Act was established to begin with; and have mistakenly laid it too favoring union contractors over non-union contractors.

    Historically Prevailing wage laws require that construction workers on public projects be paid the wages and benefits that are found to be “prevailing” for similar work in or near the locality in which the construction project is to be performed – of course the “prevailing” includes wages/fringe benefits paid to Union Workers – which does raise the cost of the non-union contractor if they want to bid/perform work on public works projects.

    Take a look at this post – – this will explain the “original purpose”.

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