Letter: Let free market competition fix the roads

The Detroit News

A few legislators in Lansing, backed by special interests, are trying to sneak through a proposal to bar many contractors from bidding on state projects. 

This is government meddling in private commerce. The Detroit News's support of government intrusion into private business is both surprising and disappointing ("Fix roads without inflated union perks," July 3).

The proposal tucked away in the massive transportation budget, House Bill 4246, would require government bureaucrats to pick winners and losers.

Private sector agreements between contractors and unions do not dictate to whom the Michigan Department of Transportation awards bids. Since MDOT awards road construction projects based on the lowest bid, non-union contractors have the same ability to bid on projects as anyone else.

The folks behind this proposal, the Associated Builders and Contractors, falsely claim costs would go up because of contract language requiring subcontractors pay their workers the same wages, terms, and conditions as the general contractor.

The idea government should exclude private business from participating in a fair bidding process flies in the face of the very economic principle ABC professes to revere: free market competition.

The proposal violates Federal law, circumventing both the National Labor Relations Act and the Davis-Bacon Act — safeguards that encourage a level playing field.

Michigan residents have spoken loud and clear: They want to see the roads fixed.

The proposal phases in the general fund reductions over two years, with a $350 million earmark for roads in the 2017 fiscal year followed by the full $700 million in 2018.

But rather than find a way to rebuild our broken infrastructure, certain legislators in the Michigan House are doing ABC’s bidding by creating a system rigged in their favor, locking out those businesses they compete with that pay good wages, and provide benefits and critical training that emphasizes skill and safety. This kind of manipulation will damage Michigan’s ability to get projects done on time and efficiently.

More worrisome is the risk to public safety.

By excluding union-affiliated contractors, this bill eliminates most competition among bidders on MDOT projects. These are the contractors that completed more than 80 percent of road projects in Michigan in the past five years. The result would be a scarcity of companies capable of doing the work.

Projects will grind to a halt. Roads and bridges won’t be fixed. Costs will go up.

ABC and its members will attempt to fill the gap with less experienced, often unskilled and underpaid workers, raising questions about the durability of and safety of construction projects.

MDOT, the state’s largest contractors, labor, business and transportation advocates all agree: The ABC plan to freeze out experienced road contractors will be a disaster for Michigan.

With its inferior record and background, ABC should not be making decisions about the construction workforce in the state.

Douglas Stockwell, business manager

Operating Engineers 324