to advance longstanding conservative goals like giving students vouchers to pay for private schools, paying churches to help with temporary housing and scaling back business regulation.Earlier this week, the Wall St. Journal recommended that the administration take advantage of Katrina to suspending Davis-Bacon, the law requiring that employers pay construction workers prevailing wages for public construction contracts. The President is allowed to waive the law during a “national emergency.” And like the good lapdog he is, the President did just that. Bush argued that the suspension of Davis Bacon “will result in greater assistance to these devastated communities and will permit the employment of thousands of additional individuals.”
As blogger Nathan Newman says:
Part of the line of the Bush administration is that allowing low-rent, low-wage contractors into public contracts will save the taxpayers money. But the reality is that decent wages translates into better quality and less costs down the road, as a range of studies linked to on that page highlight. If we should have learned anything from Katrina, it's that short-term cost savings translate into long-term costs.Meanwhile, the Department of Transportation has temporarily relaxed rules controlling how many hours truckers can drive when transporting fuel, and is doing the same thing with various environmental and other regulations.
But aside from the stupid economics of the decision, it's just an insult to the poor of the region to say that they should get paid bottom-basement wages, rather than reconstruction being a step up to a decent life for their families.
Some regulatory shortcuts are understandable in a crisis, especially when we're talking about cutting red tape, but further improvishing workers in the poorest part of the country is not just political opportunism, it's also just plain mean. As AFSCME Vice President, Roberta Lynch writes in the House of Labor:
Bush and his right-wing allies have been gunning for the Davis-Bacon Act for years now, dreaming of the day when they could wipe out the requirement that contractors on federal projects pay the area’s prevailing wage for comparable work. According to the Washington Post, Republicans believe Davis-Bacon “amounts to a taxpayer subsidy to unions.”Even the NY Times is outraged:
But Davis-Bacon doesn’t require that a penny be paid to unions. Or even that union workers be employed on federal projects. It regulates the wages that are paid to workers. Funny how Republicans don’t like to mention the fact that they’re actually out to cut workers’ wages.
And funny how Bush failed to mention that the prevailing wage for construction labor in New Orleans has been about $9 per hour. I don’t know why he didn’t want to discuss the fact that when you get much lower than that, you’re talking about paying people poverty-level wages.
By any standard of human decency, condemning many already poor and now bereft people to subpar wages - thus perpetuating their poverty - is unacceptable. It is also bad for the economy. Without the law, called the Davis-Bacon Act, contractors will be able to pay less, but they'll also get less, as lower wages invariably mean lower productivity.What will they move on to next? Maybe those irritating costly health and safety protections?