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OPINION: Davis-Bacon essential to protecting middle-class prosperity

Jake Castanza is executive director of the Wisconsin Building Trades Council

Jake Castanza is executive director of the Wisconsin Building Trades Council.

With a $1 trillion infrastructure bill on the horizon in Washington, D.C., many people expect the Trump administration, Congress and the Senate to work diligently to ensure the prosperity of American workers. Unfortunately, some Wisconsin politicians like State Sen. Andre Jacque are seeking to attack and diminish the best economic policy for preserving the wealth of construction workers.

The Davis-Bacon Act and related acts have required local prevailing wages on federally-funded and federally assisted construction projects since 1931. Prevailing wages are minimum wages for public works projects that are meant to reflect local market standards for different skilled trades. Additionally, 29 states have state-level “little Davis-Bacon Acts” that require prevailing wages on projects funded by state or local governments. The main purpose of the Davis-Bacon Act is to protect local construction standards when governments let contracts through public bidding. These policies are needed more than ever now, especially when we’re talking about fiscal responsibility namid the $25 trillion deficit that’s come about in large part because of the federal government’s response to COVID-19.

Repealing the Davis Bacon Act would result in lower quality standards, fewer skilled workers on community projects, lower quality for Wisconsin roads, bridges and schools, and less diversity in the workplace. Ad because there is a strong likelihood public projects will be completed by cutting corners on materials and workmanship, taxpayers will suffer as well. Furthermore, support for Davis-Bacon exists in both federal chambers and from both major parties. Even former Speaker Paul Ryan supported the Act.

The elected Republicans listed in Jacque’s article are extreme outliers from where good, classic Republicans in Washington stand. Jacque supports radical economic reforms that would turn the middle class into a class of working poor.

Proposals to repeal the Davis-Bacon Act are an invitation for out-of-town businesses and workers to undercut local business practices and wage rates within our state. Nor is there any significant evidence that money will be saved. With the repeal of the Davis-Bacon Act, the door would be opened to the loss of local jobs, lower wages in all industries, lower safety standards on construction sites and “cost savings” going into the pocket of owners, not the workers.

This is as close as it gets to shipping jobs off to China, and the goal is to exploit American workers in a large number of industries. For example, in construction, inviting an out-of-state workforce to take Wisconsinites tax dollars is the ultimate goal of non-union and “merit” shops, which are seeking to undercut local wage rates; over the long-term, this will pressure local markets to pay people less and less until they make the minimum wage and, in some cases, worse.

The reason is that those types of shops cannot compete with trained workers is that “open” shops and “merit” shops refuse to invest in their workers and in bona fide registered apprenticeships. They instead put those costs on workers’ backs, a step resulting in less training.

In conclusion, those looking to reform the federal Davis Bacon Act should be viewed as:

  •  anti-worker
  • anti-taxpayer
  • anti-quality
  • anti-growth

and are seeking:

  • a less diverse workforce
  • to promote dangerous working conditions
  • to divest in registered apprenticeship training programs for construction workers
  • and to provide less quality and value to communities and taxpayers.

The Wisconsin Building Trades Council represents workers from all walks of life and of different backgrounds, but the things we share most are our quality craftsmanship and love for our communities. We are composed of 15 trade unions and represent more than 40,000 working people in Wisconsin and are the singular voice for the construction industry.

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