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Public Statements

Department of Defense Appropriations Act - Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. HARKIN. Mr. President, I rise in strong opposition to the amendment offered by my friend from Kentucky. As we work to rebuild these communities in the east coast from Superstorm Sandy, we need policies in place that make these communities stronger. Davis-Bacon is a critical part of that effort because it ensures that the people who are doing the work to rebuild our roads, schools, and bridges in these cities and towns are paid a fair wage. Again, the Davis-Bacon Act ensures that workers on taxpayer-funded projects are paid locally prevailing wages--locally prevailing wages. These protections ensure that the substantial influx of Federal dollars for reconstruction work after a disaster will help prevent a race to the bottom for workers and not contribute to the problem.

After a disaster such as this, people are disrupted, and people are out of work. So we have a lot of fly-by-night operators who flock to these areas and abuse the workers. For example, we saw this after Hurricane Katrina. According to a 2006 study, 47 percent of workers in New Orleans reported not receiving all of the pay they were entitled to under law. The same report indicated that 55 percent of workers did not receive overtime pay for working more than 40 hours a week.

Now, again, my friend from Kentucky says this could save up to 22 percent of the money we are going to put out in Federal taxpayer dollars to help recovery efforts. Well, how can that possibly be? Labor costs are typically only 25 to 30 percent of the total cost of public works projects. So there's no way we could save 22% by repealing Davis-Bacon, we'd have to pay people next to nothing. That just doesn't make sense.

So, again, Davis-Bacon has been in law a long time to help prevent the kinds of abuses we saw after Katrina from happening again because it ensures that workers will be paid locally prevailing wages--not necessarily union-type wages but locally prevailing wages. It helps ensure that responsible contractors--responsible contractors, contractors who abide by wage and hour and safety and health laws--will win the bids to perform federally funded work. We do not want this race to the bottom where you get some fly-by-night operator who does shoddy work. Oh, but it is cheap. When we buy into that philosophy we might save money now, but we lose a lot of money later on.

We keep hearing from our friends on the other side that this is going to save money. That is just not true. Numerous studies confirm that prevailing wage laws--Davis-Bacon--do not raise construction costs and actually lower the taxpayer bill on these projects. A study of nine States found that prevailing wages led to costs of building construction that were on average $6 dollars to $35 per square foot less than without prevailing wages. Similarly, a 2004 study analyzing Federal highway wage data found that better wages led to an average savings of $30,000 to $34,000 per mile of highway construction. Better wages also led to higher productivity. Higher wage States require 32 to 35 percent fewer labor hours to complete the same work than lower wage States. Why is that? Because, as one contractor I know in Iowa says, he always hires people to do work under Davis-Bacon because he knows he gets quality work, he gets high productivity, the work is done right the first time and it does not have to be done over. So these are the responsible contractors we want to do this kind of work because in the long run, it saves us all a lot of money and we get better work done.

I might also add parenthetically that Davis-Bacon--Senator Davis and Representative Bacon, the authors of this law, were both Republicans. They wanted to ensure that large Federal contractors would not drive down the price of labor, so they passed a law saying that workers on Federal Government projects should earn at least the typical local wages. That is what it is--typical local wages. That is all the Davis-Bacon Act does. It is not a giveaway to unions or the workers they represent; it is just a commonsense policy that helps workers and communities recover and makes sure taxpayers get the best bang for their buck.

The workers affected by Hurricane Sandy are not just rebuilding businesses, houses, schools, and roads, they are rebuilding entire communities and neighborhoods. The foundation for communities is good jobs with fair wages. The Davis-Bacon Act is a critical part in helping communities across the east coast recover.

I urge my colleagues to oppose the Paul amendment.


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