QUESTION of the Day): Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has ordered that contractors on state projects must pay union rates (higher than they would be otherwise) for state construction projects, in a move that would override part of the Republican-controlled Legislature’s 2018 repeal of Michigan’s “prevailing wage” law. Whitmer said: “By reinstating prevailing wage, we are ensuring that working people get treated with dignity and respect, which starts with a fair wage.” Does she truly have the power to do this? To anybody who has followed this issue over the last half-century — and that doesn’t include anybody in journalism writing about it today — this is a big deal, not just on a policy basis (after all, taxpayers are paying for “prevailing” wages) but because of the clash between the executive and legislative branches of state government. Whitmer has “pushed the envelope” again in asserting executive authority to do what she wants to when the Legislature does not agree with her. This is like former President Barack Obama freeing the “Dreamers” by executive order when he couldn’t get Congress (controlled by Democrats) to implement immigration reform. Problem is, what Obama and Whitmer did is not statutory law, and it can be easily rescinded (as Obama’s order was by Donald Trump) when another chief executive with different ideas assumes office. Predictably, legislative Republicans were outraged by Whitmer’s action, and so were non-union building contractors who launched the successful petition drive that resulted in the repeal of the state’s longtime prevailing wage statute, enacted by Democrats “back in the day” when they (gasp!) had control of the state Senate and House of Representatives. So, how significant is what Whitmer did? Does it really matter? If so, to whom? And why hasn’t the Michigan media done a better job of putting the issue in historical context and explaining it to the citizenry?
The Management & Budget Act gives MDMB and the State Administrative Board wide discretion in the awarding of contracts that are “in the best interest of the state.” It’s difficult to find a Republican on the Whitmer-dominated State Administrative Board.
The question at this point is: what PERCENTAGE, roughly, of all the work that was covered under the old, invalidated prevailing wage law has now been put “back in play” (reinstituted) by Whitmer’s action? 10% ? 30%? More?
And when non-union contractors challenge Whitmer’s action in court, which they have promised to do, are they likely to get Whitmer’s executive directive invalidated? Probably not. It’s doubtful the state Supreme Court (now controlled by pro-Whitmer Democrats) has four votes to invalidate the discretion given in the Management & Budget Act in the awarding of state contracts. It’s hard to estimate what percentage of prevailing wage is “back in play” with the Governor’s executive directive and subsequent action in the near future by the State Administrative Board and DMB. Some cynics posit that repeal done by statutory initiative during the Gov. Rick Snyder Administration was somewhat cosmetic. It gave non-union contractors a public policy win that their membership had sought for many decades, but did any union contractors go out of business? Today’s news media — obsessed with the “Who’s up? Who’s down? Who’s winning? Who’s losing? aspect of the ongoing polarized political wars — have focused only on their belief that Whitmer’s decree was done mainly to shore up union enthusiasm for the Governor’s re-election campaign, given her opposition to the construction of Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac, an issue on which she differs sharply with organized labor.
But, of course, today’s journalists have little knowledge of Michigan political history, and seemingly no curiosity about it. As a result, the Michigan electorate increasingly finds itself asking: Just what life experience have these journalists really had? Yes, they may have been good students at some fairly good schools, but have they served in the military, owned a business, made command decisions, met a payroll, or produced anything of value other than the assembly of words? No. Yet their readers are supposed to respect them and their opinions. Whose footsteps into battle, political or economic, have they followed?