The Davis-Bacon Act, which requires federal contractors to pay the prevailing or average pay in the region, has been suspended in the Hurricane Katrina-damaged areas of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi by President Bush.
In a letter to Congress, Bush said he has the power to suspend the law because of the national emergency caused by the hurricane. "I have found that the conditions caused by Hurricane Katrina constitute a 'national emergency,' " he wrote.
He went on to justify the decision by claiming that Davis-Bacon--enacted in 1931, amid the Great Depression--increases construction costs. Suspending it, he said, "will result in greater assistance to these devastated communities and will permit the employment of thousands of additional individuals."
The Washington Post reports that Bush's action "infuriated labor leaders and their Democratic supporters in Congress, who said it will lower wages and make it harder for union contractors to win bids."
AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney denounced the Bush announcement as "outrageous."
"Employers are all too eager to exploit workers," he said. "This is no time to make that easier. What a double tragedy it would be to allow the destruction of Hurricane Katrina to depress living standards even further."
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi noted that the Davis-Bacon Act was signed into law at "a time when scurrilous employers were taking advantage of the desperation of American workers to care for their families. At that time, and for more than 70 years since then, the federal government has demanded that when taxpayer money is spent, workers should be paid a livable wage.
"But today," she continued, "
the Bush Administration demonstrated the latest example of its anti-worker agenda, with an executive order rescinding the requirements of the Davis-Bacon Act for areas hit by Hurricane Katrina. That means that as workers return to their lives and livelihoods on the Gulf Coast, the Bush Administration wants to use federal money to exploit them by paying less than the prevailing wage."