LANSING – Michigan’s 53-year-old law requiring union scale wages to be paid to workers on public construction projects is no more after the Republican-majority Legislature passed the initiated legislation, accompanied by multiple chants and outbursts in the House by Democrats and furious construction workers who packed the gallery.
The Senate voted largely along party lines, 23-14, with four Republicans siding with all 10 Democrats, who angrily objected to the proposal as diminishing the state’s ability to attract quality workers for projects and appeasing out-of-state companies.
The legislation, IL 2, cleared the House 56-53 with seven Republicans joining all Democrats in voting no. The House then quickly gaveled through immediate effect over howls of protest from Democrats and protesters who had watched the debate and were yelling obscenities to lawmakers who had voted for the repeal.
After the passage of the law, it took several minutes for the chamber to calm down with protesters and then Democrats yelling. Democrats were shouting “shame” to their Republican counterparts after they gaveled through immediate effect.
The repeal becomes effective upon filing the initiative with the Office of the Great Seal.
Rep. Gary Glenn (R-Williams Township) started his floor speech in support of the repeal saying it has a racist and discriminatory history. He was immediately met with a cry of “bullshit” from the House gallery where construction and other workers opposing the repeal watched the debate.
During the rest of the floor speeches, the workers in the gallery were vocal, often clapping after speeches they supported, despite being told to maintain decorum by presiding officer Rep. Lee Chatfield (R-Levering). Chatfield was later heckled during his own floor speech supporting the measure.
Glenn said the repeal would provide all contractors with equal access to government construction projects through the same merit-based system that private sector construction projects use.
“I think it is offensive to that 80 percent of Michigan’s construction workforce to suggest that if you don’t belong to our government privileged club, your workmanship, professionalism and skill is (worth less),” he said.
Rep. Fred Durhal III (D-Detroit), speaking later, said he did not need a lecture on what it is to be a minority and endure racism.
“They are in my district. That is who I represent,” he said.
Rep. Vanessa Guerra (D-Saginaw) said a vote to repeal prevailing wage is an attack on the dignity that comes from working a well-paying job.
“These … costs you are referring to are the wages of the men and women who live and work in our state,” she said. “We are not throwing money out the window when we pay these people a living wage. We are literally throwing that money back into our backyards and back into our communities.
“Supporters for repeal say it will save the state money. But we know it is not true. How do we know it is not true? Because we have seen states like Wisconsin and Indiana who saw no cost savings whatsoever.”
Rep. Pamela Hornberger (R-Chesterfield Township), speaking in support of the bill, said without paying the prevailing wage, there could be more construction projects and even more jobs.
“Taxpayer dollars that could be spent to benefit our students and teachers with more building improvements, technology and general upgrades are instead spent on artificially inflated wages required by the government,” she said.
The seven House Republicans who voted no were Rep. Joe Bellino of Monroe, Rep. Gary Howell of North Branch, Rep. Martin Howrylak of Troy, Rep. Steve Marino of Harrison Township, Rep. Brett Roberts of Eaton Township, Rep. Jason Sheppard of Temperance and Rep. Jeffrey Yaroch of Richmond.
The Senate vote preceded the House vote and featured none of the fireworks from observers, but still saw several sharply worded floor speeches from Democrats.
A repeal of the prevailing wage has long been a priority of the Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) and other Senate Republicans.
“Taxpayers won,” Mr. Meekhof told reporters following the Senate vote. “This is money they won’t have to pay for excessive costs for public works projects.”
Meekhof said passage of the proposal introduced by Protecting Michigan Taxpayers allows the market to set wages and said opponents are wrong in believing the best workers would not be attracted to the state.
Under the Constitution, the governor has no ability to veto an initiated petition adopted by the Legislature. Governor Rick Snydersupports the prevailing wage.
Twenty-two states do not have prevailing wage laws as of January 1, 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Democrats ripped the petition on many fronts, labeling it a method of reducing wages, pushing out Michigan workers in favor of out-of-state and foreign workers, having poorly trained workers doing work for cheap and leaving workers more susceptible to injury on the job.
Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint) said the Republicans love to talk about the state’s economic and business climate and the need to attract a competitive workforce.
“In all that talk, we never hear them mention workers,” Ananich said.
Ananich said the cost of living is going up and wages are remaining stagnant.”Michigan workers are our state’s greatest asset and it is time we start showing them the respect they deserve,” Ananich said.
Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. (D-East Lansing) said other states have seen no benefit of repealing prevailing wage, with little savings due to shoring up shoddy work. He said a less skilled workforce never translates to better construction work.
Hertel compared Wednesday’s vote to Republicans’ past moves to cut pay and pensions of Michigan teachers, which he said has led to a teacher shortage in the state. He said it is also bizarre to then have Republicans wondering why there is a teacher shortage in the state.
“These attacks on working people have consequences,” Hertel said.
The state’s efforts to train more workers in skilled trades and attract a more competitive workforce to draw investments will be undermined by the repeal of the prevailing wage, Sen. Ian Conyers (D-Detroit) said. He called the move contradictory to the push for a more competitive workforce and increased business attraction.
“If we think that the Amazons, the FoxConns or the Army Future Center would move to this state without a decent wage that families can invest in, we are really missing the boat on what it means to live in the state of Michigan,” Mr. Conyers said.
Sen. Coleman Young II (D-Detroit) called the repeal the undoing of a longstanding “sacred agreement” with the workers of Michigan. He said the move will make it tougher for succeeding generations to have a better quality of life in the state.
“This isn’t just about money … this is about Michiganders being able to make it,” Mr. Young said. “This is not right, and the people of Michigan deserve better than this.”
This story was published by Gongewr News Service.