This was a vote on an amendment offered by Rep. Mack (R-FL) that would have eliminated language in a water project funding bill, which required workers on the projects to be paid “prevailing wages and benefits”. The legislation to which the amendment was offered authorized billions of dollars for water treatment facilities, storm and sewer systems and sediment remediation projects. The language that the amendment sought to delete, originally mandated in a seventy year old measure known as the Davis-Bacon Act, has been included in many bills providing federal funds for construction projects. The requirement regarding wages and benefits has long been a source of disagreement between Democrats who have generally supported it and Republicans who have generally opposed it.
Rep. Mack (R-FL) began his statement in support of the amendment by saying that he generally supported the water project funding bill. He then added that he found it “hard to believe the majority would include the job-killing Davis-Bacon Act requirements in it.” Mack argued: “With Davis-Bacon the Democratic leadership is telling big labor that they are open for business and it is time to cash in on the backs of hardworking American taxpayers. As Members of Congress, one of our jobs is to make certain that our country has safe, accessible and modern infrastructure, (but it is also) our responsibility as legislators to foster a competitive environment that enables businesses to hire the workers they need and to meet these goals.” He described The Davis-Bacon language as “fiscally irresponsible (and) basically a federally mandated super-minimum wage provision that . . . ensures that wages are artificially set by bureaucrats, not by the free-market forces.”
Rep. Oberstar (D-MN), who was leading the support for the measure, responded that the Davis-Bacon language “has not killed jobs in over 70-some years.” Rep. Bishop (D-NY) also opposed the Mack Amendment and said: The Republicans are fighting (to) impose a wage rate that consigns some workers in low wage states to live under the Federal poverty level. . . And we want to ensure, frankly, that we don't give opportunity to unscrupulous contractors who will not be bound by Federal prevailing-wage requirements . . . .”
Rep. Miller (R-MI), who opposed the amendment, said: “(S)ome might say that Davis-Bacon is nothing more than a giveaway to unions, but nothing in Davis-Bacon actually requires government contractors to hire union labor. All Davis-Bacon actually does is to require that a local prevailing wage be paid to employees who do work on government infrastructure projects.”
The amendment failed by a vote of 140-284. One hundred and thirty-nine Republicans and one Democrat voted “aye”. Two hundred and forty-nine Democrats and thirty-five Republicans voted “nay.” As a result, the requirement that local governments using federal water project funds pay workers “prevailing wages and benefits” remained in the legislation.