The Davis-Bacon Act is the federal law that requires prevailing wages be paid to workers on federally funded construction projects for that type work in the particular locality where the job is to be done. Prevailing wage rates are determined by a survey of the United States Department of Labor for each construction craft. It is not automatically the union scale. In nearly three out of four communities the prevailing wages aren’t based on union wages and benefits at all. Most rates are not even close to union rates. Even when they are, unscrupulous contractors find ways around the law. Knowing there is little or no penalty for violation and small chance they will be caught, they make their lower paid workers do the recognized tasks of higher paid journeymen. It is not uncommon to find workers hired at the laborer scale doing the work of pipe-fitters, carpenters, ironworkers or even electricians.
Over the last 20 years, 12 states have repealed local prevailing wage laws. According to some reports this has resulted in a rapid decline in workers’ wages, reduced or eliminated apprenticeship training opportunities, a decline in availability of skilled workers, and increases in death and injury on job sites. (See “Strengthen, Don’t Repeal, the Davis Bacon Wage Law,” Robert H. Myers, Roanoke Times and World News, Feb. 25, 1995).
At present there are two bills winding their way through Congress, one to repeal Davis-Bacon Act and one to strengthen it. On February 20, 1995, Vice President Gore told the AFL-CIO Executive Council that President Clinton would veto any legislation that repeals the Davis-Bacon Act, the Service Contract Act, or Section 8(a)(2) of the NLRA. (Makes it unfair labor practice to dominate or interfere with a labor organization).