Happy Birthday Davis Bacon!
Prevailing wage laws stand to preserve (often explicitly) the work unions like ours have negotiated higher wages for workers. Since collective bargaining agreements are often considered when determining the prevailing wage, it’s usually comparable to what union workers make.
The Davis-Bacon Act mandated that it apply to "contractors and subcontractors performing on federally funded or assisted contracts over $2,000 for the construction, alteration, or repair (including painting and decorating) of public buildings or public works."
For working people, Davis-Bacon has been an undeniable success. The act has helped lift millions into the middle class by guaranteeing that the best-trained, highest-skilled workers build our infrastructure in the world.
As of 2016, the act increased wages in federal construction projects by an average of $1.4 billion per year.
History of the Act
The act is named after its sponsors, James J. Davis, a Senator from Pennsylvania and a former Secretary of Labor under three presidents, and Representative Robert L. Bacon of Long Island, New York. The Davis–Bacon act was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Herbert Hoover on March 3, 1931.
Before the passage of the federal Davis–Bacon Act, other areas in the United States had passed laws requiring contractors on public works projects to pay the wage that prevailed locally. In 1891, Kansas enacted a law requiring that ‘not less than the current rate of per diem wages in the locality where the work is performed shall be paid to laborers, workmen, mechanics, and other persons so employed by or on behalf of the state of Kansas’ or of other local jurisdictions. Through the next several decades, other states followed suit, enacting various labor-protective statutes covering workers in contract production.
Bacon attempted to introduce variations on the prevailing wage bill 13 times. Amid the Great Depression, with local workers complaining about losing jobs to those willing to work for lower wages and additional complaints from Congressmen frustrated that their efforts to bring projects home to their districts did not result in jobs for their constituents (and therefore political support from them), the Hoover Administration requested that Congress reconsider the Act once more as a means of preventing falling wages. Sponsored in the Senate by former Labor Secretary Davis, it passed by voice vote and was signed into law on 3 March 1931.
What is the IUPAT doing to strengthen the Act?
The IUPAT has prioritized the protection of Davis-Bacon and prevailing wages. In Congress, we have built a bi-partisan coalition of Representatives and Senators who support Davis-Bacon alongside other construction unions. This Congressional coalition of Democrats and Republicans who support the principle of prevailing wages as a basic labor standard has enabled the preservation and expansion of this provision over the last 91 years. Last year, in the first significant floor vote on Davis-Bacon in over a decade, an attempt in the Senate to strip the provision from the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act failed by a large margin. Davis-Bacon was recently expanded into new programs through President Biden’s Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act.
Our relationships at the federal, state, and local levels are most important to preserving the utilization of this economic boom for all workers. We can never just assume that because it’s been established law for 91 years that it will stay that way. It’s more important than ever that we continue our work with other affiliate unions in the Building Trades to implement and protect this essential law.