Republican Senator Mike Lee from Utah has filed Senate Bill S2617 which, if passed, would pave the way to repeal the Davis-Bacon Act. That would put millions of carpenters at risk of being paid less than the prevailing wage. Visit the UBC's website here to learn where your government representatives stand on Davis-Bacon, and vote for those who support the basic right of earning a fair wage.
There could not have been a more fitting site for a more important issue. Last week, Congressman Jim Himes was joined by state elected officials, labor leaders and business leaders at the Yankee Doodle Bridge in Norwalk, calling for a long-term solution to crumbling infrastructure.
The Yankee Doodle, which carries traffic on Interstate 95 over the Norwalk River, is the most structurally deficient bridge in the state. It was originally built in 1958 and awaits $15 million in repairs, slated to start in 2017. It is one of thousands of road and bridge projects whose maintenance or replacement have been put off to the point of posing an extreme danger to the public.
The National Highway Trust Fund received approval for a $10.8 billion infusion from the United States House of Representatives last week, but has not been acted on by the Senate. The allocation would only temporarily prevent the fund from becoming insolvent next month. It would not solve the problem of creating a long-term solution for funding road and bridge repairs in the United States, which are vital not only to public safety, but economic growth.
Road and bridge repair and construction leads to direct employment of tens of thousands of construction workers nation-wide, many of whom would face unemployment if the Highway Trust Fund runs out of money. Members of the UBC as well as other building trades unions, employers and supporters are being urged to visit Hard Hats for Highways (http://hardhatsforhighways.org/) and send an e-hardhat letter to congress to urge them to enact a long-term plan.
In new report card, Republican Scott Brown fails to support new jobs and Massachusetts’ middle-class
Today, the New England Regional Council of Carpenters issued a report card on Senator Scott Brown’s failing efforts to support job-creating programs and middle-class families across the Commonwealth. Senator Brown received an F on today’s report card for opposing numerous jobs bills that would have supported thousands of good-paying jobs in Massachusetts, opposing the extension of essential unemployment benefits, and failing to fight for fair wages for working men and women.
"Try as he may, Scott Brown cannot run away from his votes along national Republican Party lines,” said Mark Erlich, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the New England Council of Carpenters. “Whether it's unemployment benefits, jobs bills, or standing up for fair wages, Scott Brown is not on the side of working families right here in Massachusetts. The attempts to re-make his image cannot mask his record. He sides with huge corporations and Wall Street instead of the thousands of Massachusetts families still looking for jobs.”
Today, the New England Carpenters gave Senator Brown an “F” for failing to stand up for working families. The grade was based on the following key votes:
American Jobs Act
-Would have cut payroll taxes for 140,000 MA firms
-Supported 11,100 MA jobs
[Roll Call Vote 160, 10/11/11]
Rebuild American Jobs Act
-Would invest $850 million in MA infrastructure including roads, bridges highway
-Would not add to the deficit.
[Roll Call Vote 195, 11/3/11]
Extending Unemployment Benefits
-8 votes to extended unemployment benefits to tens of thousands of MA residents who were out of work
The City of Worcester has had a Responsible Employer Ordinance in place since 2005, but the City Manager had suspended portions of it recently out of concern that the entire ordinance would be eliminated on legal challenge. Councilors worked with various groups to re-write portions of the ordinance--most significantly to retain the language requiring contractors to participate in apprentice training programs--to put it on safer legal ground.
The Merit Construction Alliance, which represents nonunion contractors, has been using the Worcester Regional Research Bureau to back its opposition to standards for public construction in the city. According to GoLocalWorcester.com, the Worcester Regional Research Bureau is "privately funded by a host of corporate sponsors." Their top sponsors consist mostly of banks, law firms and insurance companies. When a City Councilor asked for clarification on who the group was and what function it serves, the head of the organization claimed she was somehow being "attacked" and blamed unions. In arguing that the newly drafted REO wouldn't stand up to legal scrutiny, the group's own work seemed to be less than convincing.
Union carpenters were very active in pushing for passage of the revised REO, participating in rallies, attending hearings and lining up support from Council members. Supporters also got a boost from Susan Mailman, the president of Coghlin Electrical Contractors, who wrote a convincing opinion piece in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette detailing why opposition to the REO was built on false assumptions.
Local 1305 member Dan Rego, who is a NERCC Organizer and Fall River City Councilor, is shaking things up in the Southeastern Massachusetts city. A few weeks ago, he raised concerns over issues with work being done by the Fall River Housing Authority. Since then, the sparks have started flying.
Rego spoke at a Housing Authority meeting and reported on conversations he had with workers on several FRHA projects in the city, some of which were receiving federal funding. Several workers had reported being misclassified as independent contractors, not being paid the legally mandated prevailing wage or not being paid at all. Rego told the Board that he had referred all of the allegations and evidence to proper state authorities.
The Housing Authority went into immediate executive session, during which they appointed their own independent investigator. The story quickly hit the Fall River Herald News. The paper then followed up with a vicious attack on Rego, questioning not only his motives, but actions by Rego and the union in the past to protect industry standards. This in a city where legal violations on public construction projects are not unheard of.
Dan Rego, a union carpenter and organizer who successfully ran for City Council in Fall River, is starting to shake things up in the Southeastern Massachusetts City. At a Monday night hearing for the Fall River Housing Authority, Rego raised questions about the agency's awarding of construction contracts and the payment and treatment of workers.
Braintree, Massachusetts-based Northeast Interiors has been ordered by the state to pay $20,000 in fines and make restitution of almost $16,000 to twelve employees. The company cheated workers on three projects in Arlington, Swampscott and Salem.
Civil citations were issued against Northeast Interiors and owner Kevin Fish for failure to pay prevailing wages for work performed ($5,000), failure to submit true and accurate certified payroll records ($7,500) and failure to keep true and accurate payroll records ($7,500). Violations occured when the company was doing work at Arlington Menotomy Manner, Swampscott Thomson Building and Salem Rainbow Terrace.
The Connecticut Mirror published a story last week about the growing debate between municipalities and labor unions over prevailing wage. Town leaders feel the system imposes unaffordable labor charges, while labor leaders point out the system protects towns from unscrupulous contractors who undercut companies that play by the rules.
Connecticut??s prevailing wage law is gearing up to be one of the more hotly contested topics during the state's 2011 legislative session. Approximately 25 bills related to the prevailing wage statute have been introduced during the session, which began Jan. 5 and will run until June 8.
Currently, communities must pay the prevailing rate on renovation projects costing more than $100,000 and new construction over $400,000. Some argue this threshold should be raised to $500,000 for renovations and $1 million for new construction, while others propose a $1 million floor for all projects.
Glenn Marshall, newly appointed Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Labor and former Regional Business Manager for Connecticut Locals 24, 43 and 210, is quoted in the article:
??I totally understand in the economic climate we??re in that people want to cut costs, I personally don??t believe it should come off the backs of the workers.??
Marshall points out that the industry has been harmed by the growing underground economy and he fears that raising the threshold for prevailing wage projects could open a new series of projects for unscrupulous contractors to pursue.
The Labor and Public Employees Committee held a public hearing on prevailing wage at the Legislative Office Building in Connecticut. In addition to proposing revisions to the prevailing wage law, municipal leaders also called for the state to revise the binding arbitration mandate. In binding arbitration, when the two sides can??t reach an agreement on a union contract, an arbiter fashions a contract after hearing from both sides.
Mark Erlich, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters testified at the hearing in opposition to the suggested changes. He presented data that shows that the notion that repeal of the prevailing wage law would save taxpayers money is overblown. Erlich??s testimony can be read here.
Erlich noted that ??the intent of prevailing wage legislation is to ensure that taxpayers get value for their public construction investment.??
??Weakening the state??s prevailing wage law in any fashion would hurt workers, hurt the painfully slow process of economic recovery, and ultimately lead to unsafe conditions on public projects and the delivery of shoddy construction products subsidized by taxpayer dollars.??
Erlich wrapped up his testimony saying ????If this committee wants to perform a public service by re-evaluating the current status of the prevailing wage law, please do not consider elimination of the statute. Instead, I would urge you to review all sources of public funds that do not currently trigger the use of prevailing wages. Extend the application of this valuable law; don??t remove it.??
In California, the ABC has been pushing cities to drop prevailing wage requirements on municipally funded jobs. In response to this push, a web-based resource was created for elected officials, UBC members and the public, illustrating the benefits of prevailing wage. The website - SmartCitiesPrevail.org - educates the public, news media and decision makers within city governments about how prevailing wages paid on public projects benefit Californians by preserving quality local jobs for working families.
The site contains some great resources including statistics, facts/myths about prevailing wage, and links to research and case studies collected from cities and states that have kept or eliminated prevailing wage. The site also offers useful tools and downloads, including a prevailing wage fact sheet.
Santangelo Flooring and Mark Santangelo individually have been ordered to pay fines totaling $1500 and pay back workers money they are owed as a result of the company??s violating prevailing wage laws in Massachusetts.
The violations occurred on several public jobs in the Commonwealth, mostly in 2009. NERCC Organizers found workers were not being paid properly and reported it to the state, which led to the investigation and workers being paid a total of close to $7,000.
Lockheed Window Corporation and its President, Michael Kosiver, both of Rhode Island will be paying workers more than $56,000 in back wages after the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office found them to have violate state prevailing wage laws. They will also pay a $10,000 penalty to the Commonwealth.
"investigators discovered that during work performed at 26 public works projects from September 2006 through February 2009, the company failed to pay the proper prevailing wage rate to 22 employees who were installing windows."
"Workers who believe they have been misclassified or that their rights have been violated are strongly urged to call the Attorney General??s Fair Labor Hotline at (617) 727-3465. More information about the wage and hour laws is also available in multiple languages at the Attorney General??s Workplace Rights website: www.massworkrights.com."
At least two workers employed on a project to convert a former hospital building into affordable housing in Bridgeport, Connecticut are receiving checks totaling close to $50,000 for back wages owed to them. Despite public money funding the project from at least three local and state agencies,the workers were not paid at the legally mandated prevailing wage rate by their employer, Fairfield County Drwyall. The Bridgeport-based company was a subcontractor for Viking Construction.
The workers received help in getting their wages from NERCC Organizers in Connecticut, including Ted Duarte, who says the initial contact was a byproduct of the good work of Organizers in the Empire State Regional Council of Carpenters.
Duarte said that a carpenter on a job in New York was assisted in getting wages he was owed by Empire State Council Organizer Rich Craven. That carpenter was a friend of one of the drywallers on the Bridgeport job, who suspected he was owed wages. Craven spoke to him and facilitated a meeting with Duarte, who helped get state authorities involved.
"This is the way a lot of nonunion carpenters come to us, how they get to know about us and what we do," Duarte said. "They have a buddy who got stiffed on a job and got paid because a union organizer helped them. When we help them get paid hundreds or thousands of dollars, that word can really get around. Rich did good work for the carpenter in New York and it led to us being able to help two more guys get paid here."
One of the workers in Bridgeport was recently given a check in excess of $32,000 for sixteen weeks of pay he was owed. Duarte said he should be getting an additional $1,500. The other carpenter was paid about $11,000 and could have more coming, too, Duarte said.
Prevailing wage laws exist at the federal level and in many states to ensure contractors do not gain a bidding advantage by underpaying workers. Wage rates for building trades crafts workers are established through local area surveys, which determine the fair market value for hourly wages. Prevailing wage laws have helped protect a decent standard of living for the nation's construction workforce. They also ensure highly skilled crafts workers build with public dollars, rather than whoever is willing to work for less.
The following question and answer is taken from a transcript of a Town Hall meeting President Barack Obama had at the Orange County Fair and Event Center in Costa Mesa, California on March 18, 2009.
Q I'm President of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, the umbrella organization for construction unions. I would like to thank you for your leadership on the stimulus package, and particularly for trying to get construction workers back to work.
But during the last eight years, the administration chose not to enforce the Davis-Bacon requirements, chose not to enforce wage and hour conditions, and many thousands of workers were denied the wages that they were legally entitled to. What can your administration do to make sure that people get the wages that they're entitled to in this terrible economic downturn?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, look, I have already said that we are going to promote Davis-Bacon. We think it is important that unions have the opportunity to organize themselves. (Applause.)
Now, you know, sometimes, you know, the business press says, oh, that's anti-business. And whenever I hear that I'm always reminded of what Henry Ford said when he first started building the Model T -- and he was paying his workers really well. And somebody asked him, they said, why are you paying your workers so well? He said, well, if I don't pay them well, they won't be able to buy a car.
Think about that. Part of the problem that we've had with our economy over the last decade at least is that -- well, there are a number of problems. Number one, it turns out that a huge amount of the growth that was claimed was in the financial services industry. And now we find out that a bunch of that stuff was just a paper growth that wasn't real and vanished as soon as somebody pulled the curtain.
Another part of the problem with our economy and the way it was growing was that wages and incomes for ordinary working families were flat for the entire decade. Now, I don't need to tell you this because you've experienced it in your own lives. You're -- just barely kept up with inflation while people at the very top -- and look, I'll be honest with you, because I'm now in that category -- we were seeing all the benefits.
So when I say that we should make it easier for unions to organize and observe Davis-Bacon, all I'm trying to do is to restore some balance to our economy so that middle-class families who are working hard -- (applause) -- they're not on welfare, they're going to their jobs every day, they're doing the right thing by their kids -- they should be able to save, buy a home, go on a vacation once in a while. You know, they should be able to save for retirement, send their kids to college.
That's not too much to ask for; that's the American Dream. And the only way we get there is if we have bottom-up economic growth instead of top-down economic growth. (Applause.) And that's why -- that's why the debate about this budget is so important.