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Anti-Davis Bacon Bill, HR 448, Debunked by Economist in Committee Hearing

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A bill labeled HR 448, currently before the House Education and the Workforce Committee, aims to systematically lower wages in the construction industry by changing the method by which prevailing wages are calculated.  This approach, which was been beaten back in the late 90s, is the latest attempt to lower wages after repeated House failures to repeal the Davis-Bacon Act.

The bill would have substitue BLS construction wage data for local wage data and would not include fringe benefits, thus lowering total wage figures.  Ross Eisenbrey of the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) testified on behalf of workers during a committee hearing on the bill.

“BLS surveys are incapable of accomplishing Davis-Bacon’s statutory mandate” of establishing prevailing wages, he said. The brainstorm to use BLS wage data come from the Heritage Foundation, Eisenbrey said. He did not remind the lawmakers that Heritage is a noted right-wing think tank.

They did not need to be reminded because the “new concept” is simply the Heritage Foundation’s old plan rewritten.  In his testimony on the anti-Davis Bacon bill Eisenbrey noted that the measure ”does not prescribe how BLS should meet the Davis-Bacon Act’s statutory requirements while using ‘scientific methods.” He was unequivocal in his assertion that substituting BLS Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) for the current system “is unacceptable.”

Excluding fringe benefits such as healthcare and pensions — which make up nearly 20 percent of a construction workers total wage — would have a sever impact on the manadated wages for any given worker.  

“The OES does not capture and report exact wage rates and is incapable of determining a single rate paid to a majority of workers in a given classification and locality. Unlike the Wage and Hour Division survey, the OES measures 12 wage intervals or ranges for wages, not the actual rate. For example, wages falling in Range D in the May 2012 survey could vary by as much as $3.74 an hour, from $14.50 to $18.24, or $30,160 to $37,959 on an annual basis. From the OES it is virtually impossible to know whether a single rate is being paid to a majority of workers in any classification in a local area.”

The House panel did not vote on HR448 but all indications were that they supported it.  The committee relied on information from right-wing think-tanks throughout the hearings and rehashed old arguments that have been debunked over decades. Eisenbrey dismissed the arguments:

“The need to keep the federal government from depressing construction industry wages, the need to support the development of the next generation of skilled workers in the construction trades, and the need to ensure the highest quality work on federal construction projects are just as great today as they were 30 years ago or even 80 years ago,” he said. “The Davis-Bacon Act has served the public well, and nothing should be done that might undermine the effectiveness of the act in achieving these important purposes.”


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