U.S. House votes down effort to weaken federal prevailing wage

The U.S. House of Representatives on July 13 voted down an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would have reduced prevailing wages on federally-funded construction projects. The amendment failed 183 to 242. Fifty-one Republicans joined all voting Democrats in voting no. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.), was the only member of Congress from Washington or Oregon to vote “yes” on the amendment.

Enacted in 1931, the Davis-Bacon Act requires that local prevailing wages, determined by the Labor Department, be paid to construction workers – union and nonunion – toiling on federally funded projects such as highways, bridges, airports and subway systems.

The amendment to weaken Davis-Bacon rules in the National Defense Authorization Act was made by Republican Paul Gosar of Arizona. It would have required that wage determinations be made with  statistically sampled information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics — instead of the current method, which is based on employer surveys.

Leading the debate against the amendment was Rep. David Norcross (D-N.J.), who is a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), a former Building Trades Council president in southern New Jersey, and co-chairman of the Congressional Building Trades Caucus.

“The prevailing wage is based on surveys of local wages and benefits, not whether there is a union or not,” Norcross said. “This (amendment) is about cutting wages in your local community.” He asked colleagues: “Why would you ever want to go back and say, ‘I want to hurt the people I represent?’ ”

The bill itself, H.R. 2810 National Defense Authorization Act, passed the House July 14 by 344-81. The bill would authorize and prioritize funding totaling $696 billion for the Department of Defense and military activities and construction. The bill now heads to the Senate.

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