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Letter: Let free market competition fix the roads

A few legislators in Lansing, backed by special interests, are trying to sneak through a proposal to bar many contractors from bidding on state projects.

This is government meddling in private commerce. That the Detroit News supports government intrusion into private business is both surprising and disappointing.

Here are a few things they fail to mention about the proposal tucked away inside the massive transportation budget, House Bill 4246, that would require government bureaucrats pick winners and losers.

Agreements between contractors and unions are private sector agreements. They do not force the state to hire union workers. They do not dictate who the Michigan Department of Transportation awards bids to.  Since MDOT awards road construction projects based on the lowest bid, non-union contractors have the same ability to bid on projects as anyone else.

The folks behind this proposal, the Associated Builders and Contractors, falsely claim costs would go up because of contract language requiring subcontractors pay their workers the same wages, terms, and conditions as the general contractor.

This is flatly untrue.

The idea government should exclude private business from participating in a fair bidding process flies in the face of the very economic principle ABC professes to revere: free market competition.

The proposal violates Federal law. It circumvents both the National Labor Relations Act and the Davis-Bacon Act.  The former disallows government intrusion into contracts, and the latter requires contractors to pay union scale wages and benefits if even a single Federal dollar is used.

As an example of how these safeguards encourage a level playing field: Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin all have even stronger contract language – and better roads.

Michigan’s roads and bridges are in horrible shape. School busses cross disintegrating bridges, motorists pay skyrocketing costs to fix their cars and potholes have seemingly replaced the Great Lakes as our claim to fame.

Michigan residents have spoken loud and clear: they want to see the roads fixed.

But rather than find a way to rebuild our broken infrastructure, certain legislators in the Michigan House are doing ABC’s bidding. And what ABC wants is a system rigged in their favor, locking out those businesses they compete with that pay good wages, provide critical training that emphasizes skill and safety, and benefits.

Roads and bridges are critical infrastructure. Michiganders use them every day. ABC and the legislators carrying their water aim to rig Michigan’s construction industry to favor certain businesses over others. This kind of manipulation will damage Michigan’s ability to get projects done on time and efficiently.

More worrisome is the risk to public safety.

By excluding union-affiliated contractors, this bill eliminates most competition among bidders on MDOT projects. These are the contractors that completed more than 80 percent of road projects in Michigan in the past five years. The result would be a scarcity of companies capable of doing the work. Many of these companies hire skilled workers with the right training and education, experienced workers who can produce quality roads.

Projects would grind to a halt. Roads and bridges won’t be fixed. Costs will go up. This is simple economics.

And ABC and its members will attempt to fill the gap with less experienced, often unskilled and underpaid workers, raising questions about the durability of and safety of construction projects. If allowed to become law, ABC’s proposal would cause Michigan workers to lose good-paying jobs that are critical to our middle-class.

MDOT, the state’s largest contractors, labor, business and transportation advocates agree: The ABC plan to freeze out experienced road contractors will be a disaster for Michigan.

With its inferior record and background, ABC should not be making decisions about the construction workforce in the state.

-Douglas W. Stockwell, Operating Engineers 324 Business Manager