News Story

Republican U.S. Rep. Upton Joins Dems to Uphold Mandatory Union-Scale Wages

Amendment would have repealed 'prevailing wage' mandate on federal projects

Just one Michigan Congressional Republican — U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph — joined the Democrats in voting to uphold union prevailing wages on federal construction projects.

Rep. Upton voted with 36 other House Republicans and 195 Democrats to prevent the repeal.

Prevailing wage laws ensure that arbitrary union-scale wages must be paid on government projects. In practical terms, when the government bids out a construction project like road building or school repairs, taxpayers pay a certain rate regardless of the bids received.

"Prevailing wages demand that the U.S. Department of Labor set the cost for labor for federal government construction contractors rather than having the taxpayers get the benefit of competitive labor cost bidding," said Americans for Limited Government President Nathan Mehrens, in a press release.

The federal law mandating prevailing wages is known as the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931. The vote was an amendment to an appropriations bill that would have repealed the mandate for federal contractors.

Many states also have laws that require union-scale wages. In Michigan, even some local municipalities require these higher costs for taxpayers.

In recent years, Bay City and Eaton County have repealed their local prevailing wage ordinances while Saginaw considered one. Legislation has been introduced to repeal the state prevailing wage law and the issue has flared up in recent months as the state talks about spending more money on road construction.

2012 report from found that 18.8 percent of Michigan construction workers are in a union while only 13.2 percent of American construction workers are unionized, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,

A 2007 study from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy conservatively estimated that Michigan's prevailing wage law costs taxpayers about $250 million per year.

The eight Republicans from Michigan to vote for the repeal were Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls; Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland; Rep. Justin Amash, R-Cascade Township; Rep. Dave Camp, R-Midland; Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton; Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Brighton; and Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township.

The five Democrats from Michigan joining Rep. Upton to vote against prevailing wage repeal were Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint; Rep. Sander Levin, D-Royal Oak; Rep. John Dingell, D-Dearborn; Rep. John Conyers, D-Detroit; and Rep. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township.

Rep. Upton's office did not respond to a request for comment.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.