WASHINGTON (AP) — The House early Saturday turned back an effort to suspend a Depression-era law that requires federal contractors to pay locally prevailing wage rates. The vote came amid heightened clashes between the two parties over labor rights.
Lawmakers voted 233-189 against barring spending on Davis-Bacon wage requirements on federal work projects for the remainder of this budget year. The measure was offered by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, as an amendment to a massive spending bill to keep the government running through Sept. 30,
Republicans have long targeted the 1931 law, saying it drives up the costs of public works projects and favors unionized companies over smaller firms that can't pay higher wages.
Davis-Bacon enjoys strong support from Democrats and the King amendment, had it passed, would have met strong resistance in the Democratic-controlled Senate and opposition from President Barack Obama.
The vote came as Wisconsin's new Republican Gov. Scott Walker has set off a firestorm of protests by seeking to curtail the collective bargaining rights of public workers and several other GOP-led states are looking to cut state worker benefits as part of budget-cutting efforts. Obama said in a radio interview that Walker's legislation was an "assault on unions."
The House this week also rejected a GOP proposal to eliminate funds for the National Labor Relations Board. The Republican spending bill would still cut $50 million, or 18 percent, from the agency that referees disputes between workers and employers.
King cited an analysis by the Heritage Foundation estimating that Davis-Bacon would add more than $10.9 billion to the deficit this year. He said locally prevailing wage rates tend to reflect the higher pay scale of union workers in the area and average some 22 percent above standard wage rates in locales.
Rep. Robert Andrews of New Jersey, a senior Democrat on the Education and the Workforce Committee, said there "was no basis in fact, it is more of an urban legend," that adhering to prevailing wages drives up labor costs. He said that if accurately measured a prevailing wage doesn't add to costs and promotes a stable local labor force.
Two years ago, when Democrats controlled the House, the chamber voted 284-140 to defeat a proposal to exempt wastewater infrastructure projects from Davis-Bacon rules.
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