Ballot drive launched to keep prevailing wage law intact

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Construction trade groups launched a 2018 ballot drive Tuesday to keep intact Michigan’s 52-year-old law that requires “prevailing” wages and benefits for workers on state-financed building projects, calling it a backup plan in case the Republican-led Legislature repeals the law.

Protect Michigan Jobs, a coalition that includes the pro-union Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council and the state chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association, said its initiative — an initiated bill — would ensure that voters decide the fate of the law.

The coalition’s move comes more than a month after a group backed by a nonunion construction trade organization finalized legislation of its own to try to rescind the law. That ballot committee turned in more than 380,000 signatures for veto-proof legislation to rescind the law.

If state election officials certify that roughly 252,000 of those signatures are valid — which is expected — that bill will go to the Legislature, whose leaders support it despite GOP Gov. Rick Snyder’s backing of the existing law. Lawmakers could pass the legislation or allow a statewide vote next November.

If enough signatures are collected for the new bill, voters would get a say regardless.

“Let the people decide,” said Mike Crawford, executive director of the electrical contractors group. “The people of the state of Michigan … see the value in making sure that construction workers, both union and nonunion, are paid an appropriate wage with an appropriate fringe benefit package, pension and health insurance, and funding for apprenticeship training programs.”

The 1965 law requires paying the local wage and benefit rate — usually union scale — on state-financed construction projects such as public schools.

Conservatives say the law is outdated, inflates costs and makes it harder for nonunion contractors to compete by making lower bids. But defenders, including Democrats and some Republicans, say it prevents governments from awarding contracts solely based on which bidders pay their workers less. Snyder has complained that abolishing the law would hamper efforts to bolster unfilled blue-collar jobs.

The timing “couldn’t be worse with the fact that this industry is starting to retire our baby boomers,” said Patrick Devlin, secretary-treasurer of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council. “To be telling people that they shouldn’t be paid a fair wage is something we don’t think helps our message out there in recruitment.”

Jeff Wiggins, president of the anti-prevailing wage ballot committee Protecting Michigan Taxpayers, called the new proposal a “full-scale assault” on taxpayers.

“Voters should decline to sign this absurd petition that would eventually reinstate a government-mandated special interest carve-out for a select few,” he said in a statement.

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