Prevailing wage repeal effort clears major hurdle

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — A group seeking to repeal Michigan’s prevailing wage law submitted more than 380,000 signatures to the Secretary of State’s office Friday to try to put the issue before the Republican-controlled Legislature.

The organization wants state lawmakers to decide whether to repeal a 1965 law that requires contractors to pay their workers union-rate wages and benefits on state-financed or -sponsored projects. Supports argue it inflates construction costs for taxpayers, while labor opponents say it would hurt workers and benefit contractors.

“Michigan citizens have spoken by signing this petition that will finally allow for a free and fair public construction bidding process that protects Michigan workers and Michigan taxpayers,” said Jeff Wiggins, president of Protecting Michigan Taxpayers. “Eliminating the state government’s costly prevailing wage mandate will save taxpayers millions of dollars every year and ensure that hard work and open competition deliver Michigan residents the best quality product.”

Gov. Rick Snyder has threatened to veto any such legislation that reaches his desk, suggesting it could hurt his efforts to boost the number of skilled trades workers.

But a successful petition drive allows the issue to come before the Legislature as citizen-initiated legislation, a scenario in which the governor’s veto power does not apply.

The ballot committee raised more than $1.7 million for a similar effort two years ago but it failed when paid signature-gatherers failed to gather enough valid signatures. Election officials must certify at least 252,523 as valid before the issue can come before state lawmakers.

State Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, has been a longtime supporter of repealing the prevailing wage law. He has called it “an unnecessary burden on our schools and local communities.”