House defeats Republican attempt to cut construction workers’ wages
Construction workers on the job out in the heat in Philadelphia, July 12, 2022. | Matt Rourke / AP

WASHINGTON (PAI)—By a bipartisan 165-264 vote, the Democratic-run U.S. House defeated the latest Republican perennial try to cut construction workers’ wages by repealing the Davis-Bacon Act.

All 223 voting Democrats opposed the Republican move and supported workers, as did 41 Republicans who defected from the party line. The other 165 Republicans voted to kill Davis-Bacon.

Davis-Bacon, enacted in 1931 in the depths of the Great Depression, ensures decent wages for construction workers who toil on federally funded projects—highways, subways, bridges, airport runways, and, now, installing broadband.

It mandates those workers be paid a minimum of the locally prevailing wage in their area and for their craft.

Labor Department surveys of workers and employers set those minimums, which vary state by state, metro area by metro area, and craft by craft. That way Davis-Bacon ensures cut-rate anti-union construction contractors can’t low-ball workers on federally funded projects.

“Davis-Bacon requires workers on federally funded construction projects be paid no less than the wages paid in the community for similar work,” House Appropriations Committee Chair Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., told her colleagues. The Davis-Bacon brouhaha occurred during the July 19 work on the money bill for the Departments of Housing and Urban Development and Transportation for the fiscal year that begins October 1.

“The House has taken numerous votes on this issue, and on every vote…has voted to maintain Davis-Bacon requirements. We should not be attacking working-class people, men and women who work every single day for a decent paycheck, and their wages haven’t been increased with the cost of inflation,” she added.

“Dozens of studies over decades have shown prevailing wages increase productivity, raise wages, help local contractors, and promote high-quality apprenticeship programs,” said Rep. Donald Norcross, D-N.J., an Electrical Worker,

“Prevailing wage laws increase productivity by attracting higher-quality general contractors and subcontractors to bid on public works; it levels the playing field. As a result, public projects cut down on change orders and finish projects with greater efficiency.”

As for the Republican arguments against Davis-Bacon, “I find it absolutely unbelievable that…each and every time” Davis-Bacon foes are “saying ‘I am fighting to lower wages in my district. This is what my people want, they want to be paid less.’ Not a word on what the contractor/owners can make,” the former South Jersey Building Trades president added.

“‘But the workers, the ones who build things, we are fighting to lower those wages,’” those foes are saying, Norcross continued. “This is insane. I would call it dumb, but I want to be kinder…Let’s just call it wrong, hateful, misappropriated.”

He also pointed out that repealing Davis-Bacon can backfire. States have their own Davis-Bacon laws, governing their construction projects. After Republicans took total control of West Virginia, they repealed the Mountaineer State’s law in 2015. They confidently predicted doing so would cut construction costs so much the state could build five new schools for the price of four. It didn’t work.

Studies showed “no savings from repeal, but massive decreases in wages,” plus the hiring of “out-of-town contractors” and declining apprenticeships, Norcross said. What he did not say was that repeal removed well-paying construction jobs from native West Virginians in one of the nation’s poorest states.

The right-wing Republicans, doing the bidding of the anti-worker cut-rate Associated Builders and Contractors, dragged out hoary anti-union arguments against prevailing wages. Other Republican rightwing-dominated lobbies and ideologues, such as the so-called National Right To Work Committee and the Heritage Foundation, supported repeal, too.

Rep. Virgil Good, R-Va., a white right-winger, led the charge. He alleged Davis-Bacon “inflates construction costs by 10%,” and costs $11 billion annually. And given his party’s leaders and positions on race, Good hypocritically dragged it into the debate. He called Davis-Bacon “a conglomeration of Jim Crow-era policies intended to inflate the wages of government contractors and eliminate competition for labor in favor of white union workers.”



Press Associates Union News Service provides national coverage of news affecting workers, including activism, politics, economics, legislation in Congress and actions by the White House, federal agencies and the courts that affect working people. Mark Gruenberg is Editor in chief and owner of Press Associates Union News Service, Washington, D.C.