Join 3,440 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Davis-Bacon Suspension
September 9, 2005 8:42 PM   Subscribe

The Davis-Bacon Act was passed in 1931 and requires all contractors for federally funded or assisted projects to pay their workers no less than the locally prevailing wage. The impetus for the act was a contractor from Alabama, hired to build a Veteran's hospital in Long Island, who brought a low-paid workforce with him rather than hiring more pricey locals. Organized labor is rather fond of this Act while others see it as racist and un-American. One provision allows the president to suspend the Act in times of national emergency, and now is one of those times.
posted by ewagoner (29 comments total)

 
Of course, the Gulf Coast already has some of the lowest wages in the country, so this suspension can only drive them lower still.
posted by ewagoner at 8:45 PM on September 9, 2005


New York Times has already weighed in on this.
posted by Creosote at 8:47 PM on September 9, 2005


it's yet another appalling thing about this--i'm betting they'll recruit in the shelters too.
posted by amberglow at 8:47 PM on September 9, 2005


As far as I know, US Presidents can suspend pretty much any US civilian rights during a declared "national emergency" and - oddly enough - US presidents define those "emergencies".

Meaning :

The legal mechanisms are in place for GW Bush to be a king. He simply needs more goodwill.
posted by troutfishing at 8:48 PM on September 9, 2005


Naomi Klein: Let the People Rebuild New Orleans

"It will be a long and difficult battle, but New Orleans' evacuees should draw strength from the knowledge that they are no longer poor people; they are rich people who have been temporarily locked out of their bank accounts."
posted by muckster at 8:49 PM on September 9, 2005


Is there any depth of human misery this administration will not plumb to find some corporate silver lining?
posted by madamjujujive at 8:58 PM on September 9, 2005


Um, no. I could not hate this man more if he killed my family, so help me.
posted by tristeza at 9:21 PM on September 9, 2005


I wonder if the lettering of the act allows it to be suspended regionally or not. If not, federal contract jobs will be exposed to the same problem all across the country.
posted by mystyk at 9:28 PM on September 9, 2005


As far as I know, US Presidents can suspend pretty much any US civilian rights during a declared "national emergency" and - oddly enough - US presidents define those "emergencies".

Not "any", just the ones where Congress has specifically enacted such "national emergency" loopholes. As it happens Davis-Bacon is one of them.

See USC 50 ยง 1621.

The really interesting thing about this, to me, is that this means Bush is actually declaring a national emergency by proclamation. The definition isn't very rigorous (§ 1622), but I don't think localized "major disaster" and "state of emergency" declarations cut it all by themselves. He also has to specify which laws whose extraordinary powers he is invoking.

Ah, here it is.

Anyway, rest easy troutfishing -- remember that if he wants to suspend any more Constitutional rights, he must list the rights he's suspending on the White House website! Don't you feel better now?
posted by dhartung at 9:37 PM on September 9, 2005


mystyk, the proclamation lists the counties where the suspension applies.
posted by dhartung at 9:38 PM on September 9, 2005


My off the cuff theory at first was that this would allow the Mexicans to come into the region and start doing low-cost construction... so far I haven't seen anything to shoot that down...
posted by wfrgms at 9:59 PM on September 9, 2005


Note that I've only skimmed the link concerning the racist aspects of the Davis-Bacon Act. It seems, however, that in this case suspending the act, rather than enforcing it, is the ideal course of action for the racist. Insofar as New Orleans is very poor and majority Black, the act's provisions would hardly be expected to lock out Black migrant workers who work for lower wages compared to white unions.

"George Bush doesn't care about Black people."
posted by dsword at 10:05 PM on September 9, 2005


Is there any depth of human misery this administration will not plumb to find some corporate silver lining?

Hate to say it, but no.
posted by homunculus at 10:17 PM on September 9, 2005


$50 billion in funding (so far, with more to come I'm sure) and W. feels the need to suspend minimum wage protection?

I foresee good times for Republican-connected contractors in 2005 and 2006...
posted by clevershark at 10:19 PM on September 9, 2005


wfrgms writes "My off the cuff theory at first was that this would allow the Mexicans to come into the region and start doing low-cost construction..."

Well, W. is already on the record as being in favor of just that sort of thing.
posted by clevershark at 10:21 PM on September 9, 2005


OK, I really really dislike the current administration. To the point of bitter paranoia. And optimally I'd like to see a WPA style system set up so that the displaced persons in the area get the training and jobs to rebuild their community. None the less, the "prevailing wage" issue here is not the same as "minimum wage" as clevershark put it.

This is a hell of a rebuild. We are not displacing local union workers with scabs because there is no more local. The overall cost of this humanitarian effort is mind boggling and it seems to me that paying reasonable, but not necessarily extravegant, wages is appropriate in this situation. Do I trust the administration to do that? No, not really. But I also think that fiscal discipline is a fine idea and that we need to be prudent in how we go about getting things sorted.

I'm sure that there are administration folks that are drooling over the thought of handing rebuilding contracts to KBR, but I don't think the suspending the prevailing wage contract provisions in this case is a notion of pure evil.
posted by afflatus at 10:57 PM on September 9, 2005


Ah, the ole "screw the guy actually doing the work" policy.
It's all the rage with CEO's these days.
Managers seem to be paid disporportionate sums of money for what they do (or don't as the case may be). The workers are always left to pick up the slack.

I do believe that the majority of workers, skilled or not, (there are plenty of skilled workers that were residents of NO), should be the ones that were bussed out of there.

Unfortunately, most contractors would rather use people that they have a longer relationship, (i.e. bussing in their own workers form elsewhere), than go through the hiring and training process of new recruits trying to build a working team.
posted by Balisong at 11:25 PM on September 9, 2005


paying reasonable, but not necessarily extravegant, wages is appropriate in this situation

yeah, except that prevailing local wages in AL, LA, MS are already very low; these are not rich states in which workers make "extravagant" wages.

there are some interesting studies out there on this, frex:

8. Phillips, Peter, Ph.D., et al, University of Utah, Losing Ground: Lessons from the Repeal of Nine 'Little Davis-Bacon' Acts, February, 1995.

Summary: A major study of nine states (Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, New Hampshire, and Utah) that had repealed prevailing wages found that the repeals had negative impacts on all state budgets. The loss of construction earnings and sales tax revenues had an adverse impact, and cost overruns on road construction also increased costs. In Utah, for example, these cost overruns tripled after the repeal. Training was reduced by 40%, minority representation was reduced in training programs and injuries increased by 15%.


The study concluded that if the federal Davis-Bacon Act was repealed that federal tax revenues would drop by $1 billion per year, and that there would be 76,000 additional workplace injuries in construction annually, with more than 675,000 work days lost each year. These increases would be felt in increased workers compensation costs and costs placed on public health systems by workers without health and pension benefits.
posted by piranha at 11:46 PM on September 9, 2005


Ahh, the "mmmmbacon" tag. Excellent.
posted by jaronson at 1:51 AM on September 10, 2005


I assume that he will also cap corporate profits to aid in the rebuilding. Ha ha! I crack myself up.

But seriously, folks, this is further evidence that all the laws and constitutions you've got are absolutely worthless. The government is going to do whatever it wants to do, and there's nothing you can do about it.

Welcome to the corporate oligarchy.
posted by Jatayu das at 3:03 AM on September 10, 2005


from the article: Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, accused Bush of "using the devastation of Hurricane Katrina to cut the wages of people desperately trying to rebuild their lives and their communities."

Miller said: "In New Orleans, where a quarter of the city was poor, the prevailing wage for construction labor is about $9 per hour, according to the Department of Labor. In effect, President Bush is saying that people should be paid less than $9 an hour to rebuild their communities."


Without overtime that works out to less than $20,000 per year. Pretty tough to feed a family on that. Bush wants to pay less.
posted by caddis at 5:31 AM on September 10, 2005


Fiscal discipline, ahhh that nice old catchphrase. The GOP gave up on that a long time ago, afflatus. Except for talking heads spouting off about "tax and spend" Democrats, you hardly ever hear about how great a job the administration is doing being prudent shoppers.
posted by Talanvor at 7:46 AM on September 10, 2005


The GOP has given up on quite a few of their core mantras.

Balanced budgets. Fiscal responsibility.
Smaller, less intrusive government.
Accountability.
posted by Balisong at 8:22 AM on September 10, 2005


I'm not remembering the GOP ever promoting accountability for themselves. Demos sure, but not for saints like Ronnie.
posted by Talanvor at 8:39 AM on September 10, 2005


Markets, shmarkets; we must protect the American taxpayer from getting the greatest value for his/her money. Mr. Bush, PLEASE don't suspend David-Bacon!
posted by ZenMasterThis at 10:30 AM on September 10, 2005


The GOP has given up on quite a few of their core mantras.

Right to bear arms (NOLA gun confiscation)
Right to free press (NOLA press suppression)
Right to speedy and fair trial (Padilla)
Property rights (Kelo supporters, land-grab in NOLA)
posted by sonofsamiam at 11:01 AM on September 10, 2005


Do they have any of their core values left?

I mean right now they can take away your guns and your homes/land and if you caused any trouble or complain they could lock up and torture you, all without a trial.
posted by Iax at 2:03 PM on September 10, 2005


Whatever your views, the large population of illegal workers who suffered Katrina alongside Americans in the gulf states will grow with the massive recovery effort. Some despite the suffering, were and continue to be too afraid to seek aid from the gov't, and not without cause. Despite ongoing challenges, LaRaza's story of aid and recovery helps me envision the immanent rebuilding and gives me hope.
posted by roboto at 2:16 PM on September 10, 2005


President's Davis-Bacon Suspension May Have Been Illegal, Says Congressional Research Service
posted by mrgrimm at 1:16 PM on September 21, 2005


« Older Know Thy Neighbor...  |  It should be mentioned whereve... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments