July 20, 2011
By Neal Tepel
Prevailing wage laws in the United States date back to 1868. That year Congress passed the National Eight Hour Day and directed its public works contractors to limit work to eight hours per day.
The first state law was passed in 1891, by Kansas. Forty-one states followed suit in the following year. This ground-breaking legislation was followed by child labor laws, public schools and workers’ compensation insurance. However, it took the Great Depression, with one out of four Americans unemployed, to move the country towards the Davis–Bacon Act by a Republican Congress and a Republican President, Herbert Hoover. Representative Bacon initially introduced the bill after a contractor employed African-American workers from Alabama to build a Veterans’ Bureau hospital in his New York district.
The Davis–Bacon Act was passed by Congress and signed by President Herbert Hoover on March 3, 1931. This landmark legislation established the paying of prevailing wages on public works projects. Following its passage, all federal government construction contracts, included provisions for paying workers no less than the locally prevailing wages and benefits paid on similar projects. The act is named after its sponsors, James J. Davis, a Senator from Pennsylvania and Representative Robert L. Bacon of Long Island, New York.
The enactment of Davis-Bacon at that time reflected a clear desire by Congress to reserve jobs on federal projects for local workers. Congressmen were frustrated that their efforts to bring “pork barrel” jobs to their districts did not result in employment for their constituents. Clearly this legislation was designed to preserve federal jobs for local workers and to maintain local wage standards. It also encouraged formal training and skills development for tradesmen as well as the recruitment of minorities.
In a 2002 case known as Brazier Construction vs. Elaine Chao, Judge William B. Bryant stated that: “Americans of all races were in need of aid from the government during the Great Depression. Congress enacted the 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.”
Since 1931, legislators and communities throughout the United States continue to support the Davis–Bacon Act.
Prevailing Rate and America
July 20, 2011