- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 13, 2015

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - A Senate committee voted Wednesday to repeal Michigan’s 50-year-old law requiring union-scale wages and benefits for construction workers on state-financed public works projects.

Gov. Rick Snyder opposes the legislation in part because he has been promoting the trades as a career choice. But fellow Republicans in the Senate majority are poised to push for the repeal regardless, saying school districts and governments would save money.

“I don’t think that taxpayers should have to pay more for their private buildings than the private industry does,” Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, a bill sponsor, told the Senate Michigan Competitiveness Committee, which approved the legislation on 4-1 party-line votes. The Senate plans to pass the bills on Thursday.

Supporters such as the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and other business groups said Michigan is among just six states to base prevailing wages exclusively on local collective bargaining agreements, and the “backwards” law artificially increases wages while creating compliance headaches for contractors.

Opponents including labor officials countered that the legislation would cut wages and worker training while leading to lower-quality work and encouraging out-of-state companies to submit low bids and pay workers under the table. Prevailing wages offer a “level playing field,” said Mike Nystrom, executive vice president of the Michigan Infrastructure & Transportation Association, a construction trade group representing about 600 companies.

“They may make somewhere in the range of $50,000 to $70,000 a year - nothing that should be considered overpaid,” he said of laborers, electricians, plumbers and operating engineers who do “important and sometimes dangerous work.”

After announcing earlier this year that repealing the law was a top priority, Republicans held off on advancing the bills until after last week’s defeat of Proposal 1 - a road-funding plan that had backing from labor unions, business interests and others. Snyder spokesman Dave Murray said last week that the Republican governor’s position is “very clear” and he “isn’t interested in repealing the prevailing wage law.”

The nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency said the bills would have an “indeterminate but likely positive” fiscal impact on state and local governments, but it also said a lack of data makes it difficult to estimate savings with any certainty. The legislation would affect projects involving state buildings, universities, public schools and roads.

The legislation is not expected to save much on highway projects because most are at least partially funded with federal money.

The law was intended to put union and nonunion labor on an equal footing in competing for state construction jobs. It was struck down in 1994 and reinstated by a federal appeals court in 1997.

The legislation includes a $75,000 appropriation to implement and disseminate information about the repeal if it is enacted. Critics said that would make the measure immune from a voter referendum.

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Senate Bills 1-3: https://1.usa.gov/1KK3BaU

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Follow David Eggert at https://twitter.com/DavidEggert00

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