The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Bush Promises to Restore Wage Protections for Gulf Coast Workers

by Brendan Coyne

Oct. 27, 2005 – Bowing to pressure from organized labor, politicians and others, the White House said yesterday that it would lift an emergency order permitting federal contractors to pay less than the prevailing wage in the hurricane-devastated Gulf Coast region. The move is expected by the second week of November.

In early September, the president issued an executive order exempting the Gulf Coast from requirements laid out in the Davis-Bacon Act, which compels companies operating under federal contracts to pay workers at least the prevailing wage for any given job. According to Department of Labor figures, the going rate was around $20 an hour for journeyman electricians and $16 for low-level highway workers in New Orleans prior to the storms. Reports gathered by newspapers and unions suggest that employers have been paying as little as $7 to $9 – and possibly less – for similar work along the Gulf Coast since Bush’s suspension order.

In a statement yesterday, the AFL-CIO claimed the White House decision was spurred by the actions of over 350,000 activists who contacted administration officials to demand that workers dealing with the hurricane aftermath be paid the prevailing wage. And while the federation applauded the decision, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said it did not go far enough in protecting workers’ rights in the area.

"President Bush has done the right thing by reversing his decision to suspend prevailing wage, but it’s only the first step," Sweeney said. "He must now reinstate affirmative-action requirements for contractors in the Gulf and end his attempts to slash programs for working families while adding new tax breaks for the rich."

A rival labor group, the new Change to Win coalition, attributed credit differently. In a statement, Change to Win Chair Anna Berger credited the White House action to pressure from a handful of moderate GOP lawmakers who have a non-adversarial relationship with organized labor.

"We are grateful to the members of the Republican Main Street Partnership for their tireless work on this issue, as well as the other Democrats and Republicans who have helped to make this happen," Berger said. "We look forward to working with them on ensuring that the workers our unions are training in the area have access to jobs that provide a paycheck that can support a family once they’ve completed their training."

According to the on-line publication, GovExec.com, Representatives Peter King (New York), Frank LoBiondo (New Jersey) and Steven LaTourette (Ohio) met with and pressured Bush to reinstate Davis-Bacon at a meeting shortly before the White House announcement yesterday. The three are members of the Main Street Partnership and co-chair a smaller group of moderate Republicans known as the Republican Working Group on Labor.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.


Brendan Coyne is a contributing journalist.

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