Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., called for repealing the federal government's Davis-Bacon Act, which sets wages for federal contracting work. Alexander called the law wasteful and counterproductive, saying it hurt unskilled workers and cost taxpayers money.
"There is overwhelming evidence to support eliminating this law, and I hope our colleagues will join us in calling for its repeal. Let’s move away from bureaucracy and union favoritism and toward fairness for American construction workers and taxpayers alike," Alexander said Wednesday in an op-ed for the National Review.
Alexander is the top Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. He has long supported getting rid of Davis-Bacon and is currently co-sponsoring legislation with Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, to eliminate it. The proposal is unlikely to progress anywhere in the current Democrat-controlled Senate.
The Davis-Bacon Act, which dates to 1931, requires anyone receiving a federal contract to pay whatever the prevailing local wage is for the work — and to extensively document that they are doing it. Big Business has long complained about the law, saying that complying with it is an unnecessarily long and cumbersome process.
Big Labor favors the law, since it generally eliminates competition from low-wage nonunion labor, making more work available them and inflating the wages.
Alexander said the law had numerous negative consequences, from taking opportunities away from unskilled workers — thereby costing them a chance to earn skills — to inflating the costs of the contractor work. He said the latter effect cost taxpayers $8.6 billion annually, citing a 2008 Suffolk University study.
He added that 80 years after the law passed there is still no clear way to determine a local prevailing wage, resulting in substantial error, bias and fraud: "Even after millions of dollars have been spent in an attempt to improve data collection, the [Labor Department's] inspector general has found that these problems are still prevalent."