Efforts to repeal the prevailing wage in Michigan were halted last week, thanks to a state Supreme Court decision, but the fight continues.  

Working families in Michigan were dealt a break last week in the Republican Legislature’s extraordinary long-running attack on the state’s prevailing wage, but the state’s building trades warned the reprieve may be only temporary.

A petition to repeal the Great Lake State’s prevailing wage was held up on May 15 when the state Supreme Court granted a stay, temporarily halting a lower court ruling that had allowed the effort to move forward.

“It’s the first time in a long time that I’ve had a smile on my face coming to Lansing," Michigan Construction and Building Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Patrick Devlin told Michigan Radio. "So, this is great news. It’s a great day for the men and women of the construction industry. So, we’re very happy.”

Prevailing wage covers workers on state-funded construction projects, allowing union contractors to better compete with their nonunion counterparts.

The rates are generally based on a survey of reported paid wages – including union rates – but in Michigan, the law requires that the prevailing wage be equal to the union pay scale. The provision helps weed out unscrupulous contractors who hire easily-exploited and underpaid out-of-state, low-skilled workers to undercut their union competition.

Protecting Michigan Taxpayers, a group funded in part by the anti-union Michigan chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors, submitted 380,000 signatures in November for an initiative to repeal the prevailing wage. But during the validation process at the State Board of Canvassers, a number of the signatures were called into question and the board deadlocked 2-2 on whether to approve it.

The pro-repeal group appealed the Board of Canvassers decision and the Michigan Board of Appeals sided with them, ordering the board to certify the petition despite its discrepancies.

Andrea Hansen, an attorney with union-backed Protect Michigan Jobs, said in the Building Tradesman Newspaper that the appeals court decision, "calls into question the entire initiative process.”

“You will no longer need honest circulators because this ruling allows people to lie about the basic fundamentals of the signature collection process,” Hansen said. “More than one-third of the circulators were fraudulent, and this decision seriously undermines the integrity of the election law process and the procedures that have protected Michigan voters."

Protect Michigan Jobs then appealed to the state Supreme Court which granted a stay while the justices determine whether or not to take up the issue.

According to Michigan law, if enough valid petition signatures are collected, the prevailing wage issue first goes before the state Legislature for a 40-day period where it can be voted on or effectively ignored, in which case the issue would then go on the November ballot. If it is voted on, the vote is protected from a potential veto by the governor, in this case Republican Rick Snyder, who supports the prevailing wage.

Michigan’s legislature is currently dominated by Republican, anti-prevailing wage majorities in both houses, and advocates for working families – including the IBEW – worry that certifying the potentially-fraudulent petition would mean a very quick and painful road to the elimination of middle-class wages and benefits in the construction industry.

Repealing the prevailing wage has been shown to hurt working families while doing nothing to save taxpayer money. A recent study out of Indiana by the Midwest Policy Institute found that the wages of the state’s skilled workers fell by an average of 8.3 percent since it repealed the prevailing wage. By contrast, in neighboring states, wages grew an average of 2.8 percent over the same time period.

“Michigan’s working families deserve a livable wage and that’s what the prevailing wage has always provided,” said IBEW International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. “And as study after study has found, those wages also ensure that the work is done by Michigan residents, safely and on-time, which actually helps taxpayers.”