In a massive win for union workers, Vice President Kamala Harris announced earlier this week that the Biden administration would be updating the formula used to set “prevailing wages” on federal (and federally-assisted) construction projects. The prevailing wage, as laid out in the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931, sets a floor on compensation rates for those working aforesaid construction jobs. This is the first time the formula has been revised in four decades, when the wage standards were weakened under the Reagan administration.
The Vice President explained the rule change thusly: “Many workers are paid much less than they deserve, much less than the value of their work–and not just by a little, in some cases thousands of dollars a year. That is wrong, obviously, and completely unacceptable.”
The rule change will have major implications for initiatives underway via the Inflation Reduction Act, including infrastructure and clean energy investments. Solar and wind energy installation projects are specifically named in the rule change, which additionally provides stronger enforcement mechanisms to hold employers accountable and provisions to protect workers from retaliation.
This change is expected to be a boon for workers in the South and Southwest especially, given that many of those states have poor worker protections and lack their own prevailing wage laws. While anti-union actors will undoubtedly attempt to challenge the rule, labor leaders are optimistic.
Iron Workers President and MTD Executive Board member Eric Dean spoke enthusiastically on the change, saying “Prevailing wage is a powerful tool to help local workers and businesses benefit from federal construction spending.”
AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler added that “this rule will guarantee that workers in new & existing jobs, emerging infrastructure & clean energy sectors are paid fairly. Every job created through these investments should be a good, family supporting union job.”