Court denies challenge to prevailing wage repeal petition

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
Michigan's 1965 prevailing wage law essentially requires union-level wages be paid to construction workers on publicly funded projects.

Lansing — An attempt to stop a ballot initiative that seeks to repeal the state's prevailing wage law has fallen on deaf ears in the Michigan Supreme Court.

In a brief order issued Thursday, the state's highest court denied a request to hear an appeal from the pro-union group Protect Michigan Jobs “because we are not persuaded that the questions presented should be reviewed by this Court.”

The Board of State Canvassers is expected to meet Friday to consider the ballot petition. The board deadlocked 2-2 in late April when asked to approve the ballot proposal, but the Michigan Court of Appeals in early May ordered the canvassers' board to certify the petition.

The 1965 law requires contractors to give union-level pay and benefits to construction workers for projects funded by the state government. Repeal supporters, including the ballot committee Protecting Michigan Taxpayers, argue the law inflates construction costs for taxpayers, and people in favor of maintaining the current law say a repeal would lower wages and limit training programs they fund.

Protect Michigan Jobs had raised concerns with the Board of State Canvassers regarding petition circulators who listed fake addresses, including post office boxes, motels and churches.

Jeff Wiggins, president of Protecting Michigan Taxpayers, praised the court's decision, which he said “affirmed the rights of almost 400,000 Michigan citizens” who signed the petition.

“It is now imperative that the Board of State Canvassers certify this petition, without delay, as ordered by the Court of Appeals,” Wiggins said in a statement. “We look forward to legislative leaders acting on this proposal in the near future and finally restoring fiscal accountability and equal opportunity to all Michigan workers by repealing this special interest carve-out.”

The high court's decision damages the election system by allowing faulty circulator signatures, said Pat Devlin, secretary and treasurer for the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council.

"If we’re going to enact laws that change people’s lives, like this one does, you would think we would have a foolproof system in place, and this is anything but," Devlin said. 

Should the Board of State Canvassers approve the ballot initiative, legislators are likely to take up the measure themselves rather than leave it to voters in November. Approval would bypass a threatened veto by GOP Gov. Rick Snyder.

In a statement Wednesday, labor union leaders urged legislators to vote against the repeal and allow voters to decide the ballot proposal's fate.

“It’s up to members of the House to let the people of Michigan decide the future of prevailing wage, not ram it through the Legislature to score political points on the backs of Michigan families," said Geno Alessandrini, business manager for the Michigan Laborers District Council.

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