20 September 2005

Davis-Bacon Prevailing Wages suspended

This may be old news by now, but it is now spreading through the blogosphere, and as a progressive working in the ultra-conservative construction industry, I think it's time for me to add to the discussion.

W, in order to "streamline" the reconstruction efforts, has suspended Davis-Bacon prevailing wages in the Katrina disaster area. In effect, contractors will be able to get away with paying less than what the prevailing wages were before the disaster. There is no provision on how the savings will be passed on to anybody except the pro-Republican, anti-union contractors. Never mind that the prevailing wages were below $10/hr for a truck driver filling levees in the New Orleans area, anyway, and even with fringe benefits thrown in, still a pittance.

The way I've seen it, government regulations - from Davis-Bacon wages (passed by Republican President Hoover and Republican Congress in 1931, by the way, I've been told) to numerous required quality control and warranty steps - are there for a reason. (I work with those regulations, and they are a headache for me too.) They are there to protect the eventual users of the construction project - the public - by providing the best possible building at the most efficient price. When my company does the private sector, where they don't require such warranties, we often end up paying near minimum wage, and do no quality control, never mind the result; while it saves us enough money for another Lexus, perhaps, it will be at the expense of the well-being of my employees AND the users of our projects. And for now, because the government still requires payment of Davis-Bacon wages for federal/state/local government projects in California, I budget them into my cost estimations when submitting my bids, so my bottom line is covered anyway.

Shoddy construction at maximum savings is a major problem in India, where buildings collapse and kill people for no apparent reason. It used to be a major problem a decade ago in that Republican puppet republic of South Korea as well, and my father repeated told me that he moved to America in order to NOT live and work in those shoddy buildings dotting Seoul. The problem is, thanks to his Republican politics, New Orleans, and maybe the rest of America, will look too damn like Seoul or New Delhi before too long.

Other bloggers are already screaming foul, saying that the Katrina victims are now being fleeced again with subpar wages. So are key Democrats, including Congressman George Miller of California, whose district I lived in several years ago (I am so proud of him - by contrast, now I live in Republican Gary Miller's district). I am here to point out that cutting wages does nothing good for the contractors either. The immediate savings we contractors realize will be lost when these buildings start developing major problems in a few years, and when they start collapsing, we will be morally at fault.