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Michigan Gov. restores prevailing wages on state projects

President Joe Biden, accompanied by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, tours the International Union Of Operating Engineers Local 324 training center on Tuesday in Howell, Michigan. Whitmer has decided to restore prevailing-wage requirements for state-commissioned projects in Michigan. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Associated Press

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Thursday that Michigan will pay higher “prevailing” wages on state construction projects, three years after Republican legislators repealed a long-standing law that required better pay.

The Democratic governor said the cancellation of the law does not preclude her from implementing a prevailing wage policy for state contracts. Nonunion contractors appear likely to sue.

“This is the right policy for Michigan. When we support hardworking people and make sure they can make good money and we’ve got expertise on state jobs, it benefits every single one of us,” Whitmer said during a news conference at the United Association Local 333 near Lansing.

Her move is tied to her 2019 executive directive instructing the Department of Technology, Management and Budget to consider factors such as wages and benefits paid by companies that submit bids.

The announcement drew criticism from conservative groups, along with an association of nonunion contractors that primarily funded a ballot initiative that enabled lawmakers to rescind the law in 2018 despite then-Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s opposition.

Associated Builders and Contractors of Michigan President Jimmy Greene called it a “unilateral broadside” that “is both illegal and devastating to our state’s workforce.”

Union leaders and workers applauded Whitmer.

“Things in this world are simply not driven on price point alone. We should not pursue the race to the bottom,” said Tom Lutz, executive secretary-treasurer of the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights, who contended that prevailing wage policies will ensure superior value for the government.

Republicans accused the governor, who is up for reelection, of trying to “buy back” trade unions that oppose her order to shut down the Line 5 oil pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac. They support building a tunnel to encase a new underwater segment under a deal her predecessor reached with Enbridge.

“It smells of desperation,” said Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey of Clarklake. “We know union members are migrating to Republicans because of policy not politics. … They won’t fall for this cheap stunt. These are people who work too hard to be fooled.”

Lutz urged workers to not be “fooled” by allegations that Whitmer acted to help her political allies.

“Prevailing wage is good for Michigan because it goes to working people,” he said.

The potential financial impact of the governor’s step was not immediately known, as it was unclear if people working on state infrastructure projects have been paid less since the 1965 law was repealed. At the time of the repeal, it was not expected to save much on road projects because most are at least partially funded with federal money and subject to a U.S. prevailing wage law.

Other projects partly financed with state money, such as public schools and university buildings, are not covered by Whitmer’s move because those entities — not state government — award the contracts.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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