Support for Fair Wages for Hurricane Victims Act Growing

As we previously noted here, one of President Bush's first acts to address the necessary rebuilding efforts following hurricane Katrina was to suspend Prevailing Wage rules, making it easier for employers to pay below-market wages in the areas hardest hit by the catastrophe. He soon followed this action by suspending all affirmative action requirements for federal contractors in the region designed to see that minorities and veterans get at least a small piece of the business of rebuilding New Orleans and other hard-hit areas. The President's actions have been widely criticized and bills have been introduced in both the House and Senate to overturn the President's actions. The Fair Wages for Hurricane Victims Act - H.R. 3763 & S. 1749 (text here) would reinstate the prevailing wage requirements of the Davis-Bacon Act to federal contracts in areas affected by Hurricane Katrina. Now, in at least a partial split with the President, a group of 37 republicann House members have sent a letter to the president urging him to reconsider his actions. The letter reads in part:

"We stand ready to work with you to help rebuild the Gulf Coast and agree with you that it needs to be done in a fiscally responsible manner, ... However, we disagree with your assertion that Davis-Bacon prevailing wages would somehow undermine that effort."

In addition, the National Employment Lawyers Association has come out in opposition to the suspension of prevailing wages. They have drafted on open letter to the committee heads in the House and Senate where the bill will be handled. In their letter, they list the current prevailing wage requirements for construction positions at issue that the President believes are so high as to need suspension:

Alabama Concrete finisher $ 10.07Pipelayer $ 8.21Carpenter $ 11.18Backhoe operator $ 10.51Louisiana Truck driver $ 8.54Mason tender $ 7.00Pipe layer $ 9.84Carpenter $ 13.75Backhoe operator $ 14.42MississippiDump truck driver $ 11.01Cement Mason $ 8.33Pipelayer $ 7.45Carpenter $ 8.67Backhoe operator $ 7.67Truck driver $ 6.14

To put these wages in context, the letter points out that according to the Economic Policy Institute, a single parent raising a single child in New Orleans needs $27,192 in annual income just to pay for basic needs like food, housing, and transportation to school and work. As such, even with Davis-Bacon prevailing wage rates, many workers like mason tenders, pipe layers, and dump truck drivers would earn far less than the requisite income to support a small family and others like carpenters and backhoe operators would earn barely enough to do so. And, if you wish to contact your legislators regarding this issue, NELA has set up a webpage that will provide you with all the contact information (including email) for all members of congress along with a search feature allowing searches by zip code for those that may not know their current house district.

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