News Story

Saginaw County Stops Requiring Union-Scale Wages On Government Projects

After state prevailing wage law was repealed, local versions became hard to administer

Saginaw County has quietly rescinded a long-standing policy that required contractors on major county projects to pay their employees union level rates, or what is called a “prevailing wage” requirement

The change was outlined in an Aug. 27 letter from the county’s attorney to a representative of the Michigan Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, a trade group which had threatened to sue the county.

ABC claimed that imposing wage standards on county projects violated a state law adopted in 2018 and was contrary to the interests of taxpayers.

“I am advised that (the county) will not be enforcing the prevailing wage requirements contained in their purchasing policy,” county attorney David Gilbert said.

The policy shift, long opposed by the Saginaw County Board of Commissioners, came without explanation, but it was welcome news to ABC President Jimmy Greene.

“I don’t think there was a change of heart. There was a back against the wall,” Greene said in reference to the threatened lawsuit. “They had no choice.”

Greene began pressuring the county to drop the wage requirement nearly a decade ago, telling commissioners “most Saginaw County taxpayers should be incensed” that they are being forced to pay higher than market rates for project labor.

According to a 2012 report on MLive, one commissioner at the time said, “It’s never going to happen here. It’s just another step in busting the union.”

Greene said he believes the change in state law, and subsequent elimination of regional wage setting tables by state labor officials, made it impossible for the county to hold out.

He warned, however, that union officials are mounting an effort to shut nonunion firms out of Saginaw projects by other means, urging the county to enact a “responsible bidder” policy.

Such a policy could be manipulated to disqualify nonunion shop contractors on the grounds that they maintain unsafe workplaces, Greene said.

The policy shift, and attempts to undermine it, could be put to the test soon when the county seeks bids for a new $11.7 million animal shelter, he said. County Commission Chairman Michael Webster and Controller Robert Belleman did not respond to requests for comment.