The Davis-Bacon and Related Acts, apply to contractors and subcontractors performing on federally funded or assisted contracts in excess of $2,000 for the construction, alteration, or repair (including painting and decorating) of public buildings or public works.
At a time when workers’ wages have been stagnant for thirty years, it is important to remember the significance of the Davis-Bacon Act. The Act, which was signed into law in 1931, is named after its sponsors, James J. Davis, a steel worker and Republican Senator from Pennsylvania and a former 3-term Secretary of Labor, and Republican Representative Robert L. Bacon of Long Island, New York.
Contrary to what you may hear from conservative groups, like the Heritage Foundation, Davis-Bacon is not a subsidy for unions, nor does it show preference to union contractors. The Act simply guarantees that workers performing on any federally funded construction project in the United States will be paid the local prevailing wage.
In today’s global economy, industry is pushing hard for provisions that allow businesses to import their workforce from places where workers are paid significantly less than the prevailing wage. Anti-Davis-Bacon analysts cite market comparisons that show union wages are too high and costs tax payers money by increasing the cost of construction projects. This is false comparison because so-called “market” wages include contractors who misclassify their workers to avoid the appropriate federal, state and wage taxes and workman’s compensation insurance. These contractors are not doing business fairly or legally. Their shoddy business practices undermine wages, steal from state and local economies, and drive responsible law-biding business people out of business.
Workers’ wages as a percentage of profits are at a thirty-year low but our productivity has never been higher. This means that more profit is going to a very small few at the expense of workers. This does little to encourage economic growth or job creation. Every public dollar spent on reconstruction should go back into economy through fair wages paid to local workers and businesses’ payments of the required federal, state and local taxes. Davis-Bacon guarantees that regardless of union affiliation, the prevailing wage is paid on public works projects. Your Union is dedicated to making sure the prevailing wage acknowledges the value inherent in a hard day’s work and the people who perform that work are compensated fairly and justly.
We also hear about this act in the aftermath of natural disasters when some President have temporarily suspended Davis Bacon under the guise of providing as many employment opportunities as possible in. The act has been repealed four times since its enactment.
- President Roosevelt suspended the Act in 1934 for three weeks to aid in the introduction of New Deal efforts.
- President Nixon suspended the Act in 1971 for one month to test the strength of labor unions
- President George H. W. Bush initiated a suspension in Florida, Louisiana, and Hawaii in the aftermath of hurricanes Andrew and Iniki. This suspension was not lifted until March 1993 by President Clinton.
- President George W. Bush suspended the Act for one month in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina.
In fact, those times are precisely when the Davis-Bacon is most useful in protecting workers. These provisions are especially important in preventing predatory contractors, who exploit federal and state funds when communities are at their most vulnerable.
Working with representatives on both sides of the aisle is key for the long term success of our union and creates long term stability for our union, regardless of which holds the majority. The NRCC represents carpenters on all points along the political spectrum so we support representatives that stand up for working people, not parties.