Eighty years ago during the Great Depression, Congress passed the Davis-Bacon Act, a measure designed to ensure all workers involved in a public works project – something that benefits entire communities – aren’t taken advantage of and are paid a prevailing wage.
The principle underlying Davis-Bacon is simple—to ensure that the government’s extensive contracting activity does not have the unintended consequence of depressing workers’ wages. The Act benefits all parties involved—construction workers, their families and communities, construction companies that won’t be undercut by competitors bringing in outside laborers, and taxpayers.
I was disappointed by a recent Washington Post editorial criticizing our sound application of the Davis-Bacon Act to the CityCenter DC Project, a redevelopment project on land owned by the District of Columbia. The editorial’s misunderstanding of the Davis-Bacon Act ignores the myriad public benefits the District expects to realize through the project — benefits that clearly render it a “public work” under the Act.
The CityCenter project in the District bears the unmistakable hallmarks of a “public work,” defined under Davis-Bacon to include not only buildings owned or financed by the city but also projects carried out “directly by the authority” of the District which “will serve the interest of the general public.” Furthermore, the District will be directly involved in key aspects of the project both during construction and throughout the entire term of the government’s lease in a number of ways; for example, it will participate in profits from the project and has required that 20% of its residential units be dedicated to affordable housing.
Real benefits will flow to District residents from proper application of Davis-Bacon -starting with good-paying jobs that will put money into the hands of middle class workers and flow back into the economy.
Unfortunately, the Post rehashed long-discredited charges against Davis-Bacon. Contrary to assertions, the “prevailing wage” is not synonymous with the “union wage” and it is not complicated. The prevailing wage reflects the wage paid to construction workers in the local area—union or non-union. Moreover, Davis-Bacon Act designation does not inherently increase government contracting costs, as shown by a number of independent studies. And, no one has ever successfully demonstrated that the Davis-Bacon Act “kills jobs.”
In the long term, this project means a steadier workforce, new venues for businesses, new homes for residents, and greater tax revenue for the city – money that can be used for roads, schools, police and firefighters – and future projects that will benefit everyone.
We’ve already seen it happen with other recent major public works projects in the District, such as the National’s baseball stadium and the D.C. Convention Center, where Davis-Bacon was also soundly applied.
Our ruling has been appealed to the Department’s Administrative Review Board, which is charged with issuing final decisions on matters such as this. While we wait for their decision, we should all keep in mind the reason the Davis-Bacon Act was passed by Congress – to ensure that workers, employers and communities all benefit from public works projects.