The idea is simple: construction contractors should pay their laborers and subcontractors fairly for the work they perform on publicly funded projects. Indeed, they are required to do so by law. The Davis-Bacon Act (DBA), passed in 1931, establishes that workers be paid “no less than the locally prevailing wages and fringe benefits for corresponding work on similar projects in the area.”
It isn’t hard to see that the DBA provides important protections to workers. It prevents contracting firms from “racing to the bottom” by underbidding each other for projects, and then stiffing their workers to meet costs. As a recent piece in the Washington Post notes, it also “prevents public investment from undermining local standards” – and has done so for decades.
With rumors in the air about a $1 trillion investment in public infrastructure, it would seem that the DBA is more important than ever. Yet some lawmakers are looking to repeal it.
A brief history of the Davis-Bacon Act
Steve King, who has represented Iowa in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2003, has spent more than a decade trying to undo the Davis-Bacon Act. He believes this would “reduce the cost of new infrastructure by many billions of dollars.” The savings, of course, would come at the expense of workers’ wages.
There are additional controversies surrounding the DBA as well. Some contend it should be repealed because it is rooted in racism; the Act, they say, was a means to prevent minority workers (who weren’t allowed to join unions) from competing against unions by offering cheaper labor. Others hold the exact opposite opinion, noting that the DBA ensured minority workers were treated-and paid-fairly.
Regardless, the Act currently safeguards a wide swath of the American workforce. Dismantling it would lead directly to hardship for a number of families in Georgia and throughout the country.
What to do if you’ve been wronged
Some contractors, of course, take it on themselves to do away with the DBA. They disregard it, and underpay the workers they employ for public projects. This is, simply put, illegal. However, there is a means to fight back.
Wronged workers ought to work closely with qualified and experienced lawyers when they’ve been mistreated under the Davis-Bacon Act. An attorney can help pursue rightful wages and other forms of compensation that may be relevant to a given case.
Since the presidential election, politicians from both sides of the aisle have voiced their support for investment in public infrastructure. It seems only a matter of time before a spate of projects gets underway. The DBA recognizes the need for workers to be adequately compensated. One hopes that contractors and employers recognize the DBA itself.