Union Pork, Davis Bacon

By June 10, 2008Infrastructure

Reading through recent Statements of Administration Policy yesterday, we noticed a trend.

From the SAP for H.R. 6003, the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008:

Titles III and V would establish certain capital grants programs requiring workers employed with funds obtained under these programs be paid pursuant to Davis-Bacon Act requirements. Thus, Titles III and V would expand Davis-Bacon Act coverage, which is contrary to the Administration’s long-standing policy of opposing any statutory attempt to expand or contract the applicability of Davis-Bacon Act prevailing wage requirements. This expansion could undermine the effectiveness of the enumerated programs.

From the SAP for H.R. 3021, the 21st Century Green High-Performing Public School Facilities Act:

Moreover, school modernization and repair projects would be considered an ‘applicable program’ under General Education Provisions Act (GEPA), subject to Davis-Bacon Act wage requirements. Because federal funds have not been typically used for this purpose, the Administration is also concerned that the application of Davis-Bacon wage requirements will only inflate the costs of such school modernization and repair projects.


From the SAP for H.R. 5658, the Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act:

The Administration strongly opposes section 2828, which would apply Davis-Bacon Act prevailing wage requirements to any military construction authorized to be conducted on Guam. This provision is contrary to the Administration’s longstanding policy of opposing any statutory attempt to expand or contract the applicability of Davis-Bacon Act prevailing wage requirements.


The Wall Street Journal’s opinion editors obviously noticed the same phenomenon. Today’s editorial, “Look for the Union Label,” details the campaign to insert Davis-Bacon prevailing wage provisions into all sorts of legislation, rewarding organized labor while pushing up the cost of taxpayer-funded construction projects.

What do the farm bill, the cap-and-trade global warming bill, the clean water bill, the housing bailout bill, and the school construction bill all have in common? Not much, except that in each one and countless others the Democratic majority in Congress has inserted “prevailing-wage” requirements that amount to a super-minimum wage.

We’re speaking of Davis-Bacon, the 1931 law that originally applied to road building and other federal construction projects and set a floor on wages in part to price black and Mexican workers out of the work. Today, its main impact is to require de facto union wages. Many reputable studies have estimated that Davis-Bacon inflates federal construction costs by anywhere from 5% to 39%. A Heritage Foundation analysis of wage data reports that in many cities the mandated Davis-Bacon wage is twice as high as the market wage. In Nassau-Suffolk in New York, for example, Davis-Bacon requires a minimum wage for brickmasons of $49.67 an hour, though the more common area wage for that work is $25.50.

It’s difficult to see how policymakers who claim to be serious about addressing America’s deteriorating infrastructure, the roads and rails and ports and airports that are becoming increasingly inefficient and even dangerous, can in good conscience insert provisions into legislation to make these critical projects more expensive. As the Journal points out, the costlier the construction, the fewer projects get done.



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