News Story

Disputed Union Wages Could Cost Taxpayers In County Construction Projects

Now Saginaw faces lawsuit over policy board approved by slim margin

A group of nonunion contractors is asking Saginaw County to scrap a policy that effectively prohibits it from awarding construction contracts to the lowest qualified bidder unless the firm pays union wage rates for an extensive range of job categories.

In a March 4 letter to the county, an attorney for the Michigan chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors states that the policy is void because it relies on the state government to determine regional rates for a prevailing wage. And the state of Michigan no longer sets prevailing wage rates, following the Legislature’s adoption of a voter-initiated law in 2018, which eliminated such requirements for state-level projects.

“Please note,” the contractors association said, “that in the event the County decides to continue enforcement of its prevailing wage requirements, ABC-GMC will seek to have the offending provision removed via lawsuit.”

Saginaw County commissioners have debated proposals to nullify the county’s prevailing wage policy — which critics claim make publicly funded building projects more expensive for taxpayers — for nearly a decade. The most recent attempt, in February, was narrowly rejected by the county board.

“I don’t know how they can enforce (prevailing wage) without violating the law,” said ABC-GMC President Jimmy Greene. “There’s no basis for it any longer.”

County Controller Robert Belleman did not respond to a telephone call seeking comment on the letter or how the county goes about enforcing its prevailing wage policy.

Among the projects that could be affected by potentially not accepting the lowest qualified bid is an $11 million animal shelter the county is expected to begin this year. In 2018, voters approved a special millage for it, but it has been slowed by disputes over where the new facility should be located.

Writing last year on Facebook, County Commissioner Kathy Dwan, who supports repealing the prevailing wage policy, said, “With the building of the new Animal Care and Control building on the horizon we have the potential to save taxpayers money. ... It’s time we repeal.”

But even without action by the county board, ABC’s Greene said, “We don’t believe there is an out for them.” Nonunion contractors will be free to submit bids on any forthcoming county building project without pledging to adhere to prevailing wages, he said.

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.