Sept. 9, 2005 – As relief and emergency workers continue to arrive in hurricane stricken areas, President George W. Bush yesterday issued a proclamation suspending a 74-year-old law mandating that companies using federal funds pay workers a prevailing wage.
The order, which drew outrage from labor leaders, follows letters urging the action from Republican representatives and an anti-tax group.
Last week, Americans for Tax Reform, an organization founded by long-time Republican activists Grover Norquist, sent Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao a letter asking that she suspend the Davis-Bacon Act in order to free taxpayers from paying too much for the disaster clean up and management. Wednesday, Representatives Tom Feeney (R-Florida), Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colorado), sent Bush a similar letter, stating that the Act drives costs up and "effectively discriminates against non-union contractors."
The Davis-Bacon Act requires that companies or agencies employing workers with federal monies pay at least the prevailing wage in any given area. The wage is to be based on the amount "determined by the Secretary of Labor to be prevailing for the corresponding classes of laborers and mechanics employed on projects of a character similar to the contract work in the city, town, village or other civil subdivisionâ€¦"
Bushâ€™s proclamation does not carry an expiration date and applies only to areas in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida.
Labor groups and national office holders immediately attacked the move as opportunistic and anti-worker.
In a statement yesterday, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney warned of "profiteering" by "White House corporate backers" and asked Congress to undo the action. Friday, Change to Win Coalition Chairperson Anna Berger offered a similar assessment of early calls to suspend Davis-Bacon.
"We reject and will fight the efforts of those who would use this tragedy to advance an anti-worker political agenda," Berger said. "This crisis should not be used to compound the tragedy that has befallen tens of thousands of working people that have already lost their homes, their jobs and their loved ones. Rebuilding the disaster zone should be done on the basis of the strongest worker protections."
According to available federal data, the prevailing hourly wage for an electrician in Orleans Parish, Louisiana hovers around $20. Highway workers in the same area would earn upwards of $16 an hour.