Davis-Bacon Act


Davis-Bacon Act

The Davis-Bacon Act of 1931 is a United States federal law which established the requirement for paying prevailing wages on public works projects. All federal government construction contracts, and most contracts for federally assisted construction over $2,000, must include provisions for paying workers on-site no less than the locally prevailing wages and benefits paid on similar projects.

The act is named after its Republican sponsors, James "Puddler Jim" Davis, a Senator from Pennsylvania and a former Secretary of Labor under three presidents, and Representative Robert L. Bacon of Long Island, New York.

Prevailing wage laws in the U.S. date back as far as 1891, when on the state level, Kansas instituted this first such law. Forty-one states followed suit in the years to come. These state prevailing wage laws were the fruit of the "Progressive Era," which instituted statutes such as child labor laws, public schools and worker compensation insurance.

But it took the worldwide Great Depression, which at its height saw one out of four Americans unemployed, that fueled the passing of the Davis-Bacon Act by a Republican Congress and a Republican President, Herbert Hoover. Representative Bacon, say modern conservative opponents of the law, initially introduced the bill after a contractor employed African-American workers from Alabama to build a Veteran’s Bureau hospital in his New York district. More accurately, the legislative history of Davis-Bacon reflects a desire by Congress to reserve jobs on federal projects for local workers, who nationwide faced epidemic unemployment. Opponents to the Davis-Bacon Act have claimed that there was racist intent to the law, but critics have countered that this is a red herring, stating that it was a sincere attempt to make amends for local workers and flatly dismiss the conservative claim that it has Jim Crow origins.

While Davis-Bacon (and associated "Little Davis-Bacon" state laws) do encourage the hiring of skilled local workers, advocates emphasize that they also work to train young people into skilled tradesmen and tradeswomen. Despite anti-union criticism, union apprenticeship programs (which Davis-Bacon tends to promote) actively recruit and train minorities to this day.

Union supporters of Davis-Bacon point to a 2002 case known as "Brazier Construction vs. Elaine Chao, Secretary of the Department of Labor." In it, Judge William B. Bryant rejected that Davis-Bacon was a Jim Crow law. He stated: "Americans of all races were in need of aid from the government during the Great Depression. Congress enacted the DBA (Davis Bacon Act) to assure workers a fair wage, provide local contractors a fair opportunity to compete for local government contracts and to preserve its own ability to distribute employment and federal money equitably through public works projects." With the claim rejected, the plaintiffs did not appeal. Despite notable attempts to repeal the Davis-Bacon Act, the law for the most part continues to enjoy often bi-partisan local support across the nation.

A Great Depression law maligned by some as Jim Crow law

It has been argued by critics that this law is a Jim Crow law. It was passed, goes the charge, to prevent African Americans from bidding on government contracts. [http://www.jewishworldreview.com/cols/elder092205.asp] , [http://www.jewishworldreview.com/cols/sowell111505.asp] , [http://jewishworldreview.com/cols/williams100406.php3] , [http://www.jewishworldreview.com/cols/williams031203.asp] The Depression-era act was introduced ( so argue latter-day critics) _after whites complained that African American workers had been hired to build a Veteran's Bureau hospital in Long Island. [http://www.jewishworldreview.com/cols/elder092205.asp]

Congressional representative John Cochran of Missouri said that he voted for the Davis-Bacon Act because he had, "received numerous complaints in recent months about Southern contractors employing low-paid colored mechanics getting work and bringing the employees from the South." [http://www.jewishworldreview.com/cols/williams031203.asp]

Congressional representative Clayton Allgood of Alabama said that he voted for Davis-Bacon because, "Reference has been made to a contractor from Alabama who went to New York with bootleg labor. This is a fact. That contractor has cheap colored labor that he transports, and he puts them in cabins, and it is labor of that sort that is in competition with white labor throughout the country." [http://www.jewishworldreview.com/cols/williams031203.asp] Modern proponents of the law, however, argue that while elements of racism no doubt were part of the parlance of passing the bill, the motivating principle was clearly about a locality's ability to protect itself economically from "a race to the bottom" in wage rates.

Amendments

The Davis-Bacon Act was amended in 1935 to ensure that contractors bidding on public works projects would not lower wages in order achieve a lower bid, and to permit government agencies, which were required to accept the lowest bids, to employ contractors who paid a fair wage.

The Act was modified again in 1964 to include fringe benefits in the calculation of prevailing wages.

In 1994, the Davis-Bacon act was amended so that the construction, renovation or repair of buildings used by Head Start programs, are also subject to the requirements of the Davis-Bacon Act.

uspensions

In 1934 President Franklin Roosevelt suspended the Act for three weeks in order to manage administrative adjustments in light of the New Deal.

The Davis-Bacon Act was suspended by President Richard Nixon for 28 days in February 1971 in an effort to reduce inflation pressures. Labor Secretary Peter J. Brennan accused the Nixon administration of treating construction workers as patsies. Shortly afterward, Nixon reinstated Davis-Bacon enforcement and ordered the establishment of the Construction Industry Stabilization Committee.

In September 1992 President George H. W. Bush indefinitely suspended the Davis-Bacon Act during the recovery from Hurricane Andrew in 1992. After Bill Clinton became president, he reinstated the Act in March 1993.

On September 7, 2005, President George W. Bush, citing a "national emergency", again suspended the Act in the areas of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. He reinstated it on October 26, 2005

Efforts to Repeal

Republicans have long been trying to repeal the Davis-Bacon act on the grounds that the regulations are outdated, expensive and bureaucratic, driven in part by non-union contractor opposition to the law. In 1993 Representative Cliff Stearns [http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?r103:H09MR3-55:] urged the repeal of the act. Republican Sue Wilkins Myrick tried to repeal it outright in the budget battles of 1995. [http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?r104:H28SE5-35:] Weakening it has been part of the Republican Party platform in 1996 and 2000. In February 1999, Representative Ron Paul attempted to repeal it. [http://www.house.gov/paul/congrec/congrec99/cr021199.htm] In 2004, Representative Marilyn Musgrave tried again.

Hurricane Katrina

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, House Representatives Jeff Flake, Tom Feeney, Marilyn Musgrave, and other members of the House Republican Study Committee (RSC) urged President Bush to "temporarily" suspend the Davis-Bacon Act in order to expedite the reconstruction of the Gulf Coast. [http://www.newsmax.com/archives/articles/2005/9/9/95352.shtml] [http://www.house.gov/apps/list/press/az06_flake/050908davisbacon.html] President George W. Bush then issued proclamation 7924 to "indefinitely" suspend the provisions of 40 U.S.C. 3141-3148 (the Davis–Bacon Act) in designated areas in the States of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi, the areas most heavily hit by the hurricane. [http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/09/20050908-7.html] [http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/09/20050908-5.html] .

Efforts to repeal suspension

Senators have submitted S. 1749, the Fair Wages for Hurricane Katrina Recovery Workers Act which would restore Davis-Bacon wage floors for workers involved in the restoration of the Gulf Coast. [http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c109:S.1749.IS:] Similar measures have been submitted to the House with H.R.3684, H.R.3763, and H.R.3834. On October 26 2005, after pressure from both Democrats and Republicans, Bush rescinded his emergency order and restored the prevailing wage requirement [http://www.lindasanchez.house.gov/index.cfm?section=news&article=2005_10_27_4535] .

See also

* McNamara-O'Hara-Dobbs Service Contract Act
* Wage
* Worker's compensation
* Minimum wage
* Living wage

External links

Descriptive sources on Davis-Bacon

* [http://www.dol.gov/esa/programs/dbra/whatdbra.htm What are the Davis-Bacon and Related Acts?] From the U.S. Department of Labor
* [http://www.dol.gov/esa/regs/statutes/whd/dbra.htm Text of act, as amended] from the U.S. Department of Labor
* [http://www.wdol.gov Davies Bacon Wage Determination Database]

upport for Davis-Bacon

* [http://www.bctd.org/news/index.cfm?cid=8] Fact Sheets from the Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO.]
* [http://www.ualocal32.com/ua32pp2PrevailingWage.htm UA32PAC Position Paper on "Davis/Bacon, Prevailing Wage"]
* [http://www.faircontracting.org/NAFCnewsite/prevwage.htm] Various studies in favor of the Prevailing Wage, as posted by the National Alliance for Fair Contracting.

Opposition to Davis-Bacon

* [http://freeworkplace.org National Alliance for Worker and Employer Rights: opposition group to Davis Bacon Law]
* [http://www.ij.org/economic_liberty/davis_bacon/backgrounder.html Removing Barriers to Opportunity:A Constitutional Challenge to The Davis-Bacon Act] "Institute for Justice"
* [http://www.capmag.com/article.asp?ID=3357 Repeal the Davis Bacon Act of 1931] Walter Williams "Capitalism Magazine" December 7, 2003
* [http://slate.msn.com/id/2126102/&#bacon Pro-labor opposition to Davis-Bacon]

uspension of Davis-Bacon following Katrina

* [http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/09/20050908-7.html Message to the Congress of the United States Regarding Hurricane Katrina] President George W.Bush briefly suspends Davis-Bacon Act Sept 8, 2005
* [http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/09/20050908-5.html Proclamation by the President: To Suspend Subchapter IV of Chapter 31 of Title 40, United States Code, Within a Limited Geographic Area in Response to the National Emergency Caused by Hurricane Katrina] September 8, 2005
* [http://jurist.law.pitt.edu/paperchase/2005/09/president-signs-executive-order.php President signs executive order suspending wage law in Katrina wake] , Sara R. Parsowith, "Jurist Legal News & Research", September 10, 2005
* [http://digital.library.unt.edu/govdocs/crs/search.tkl?type=subject&q=Davies-Bacon%20Act&q2=LIV Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports regarding suspension of the Davis-Bacon Act]


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