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Congressman: Labor Department expanded wage rule without public comment

Michigans Congressional Rematch
AP file Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., said the Labor Department expanded the Davis-Bacon Act to include land surveyors without notice or public comment.

Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., said at a House Education and the Workforce Committee hearing this morning that the Labor Department expanded the reach of Davis-Bacon Act without public comment earlier this year.

Davis-Bacon is a law that requires contractors engaged in any federally-funded construction project to affirm that they are paying workers the prevailing local wage. Big Business dislikes the law, calling it a time-consuming and often subjective process. The law is strongly-favored by Big Labor though since it serves to remove any economic incentive to hire non-union labor.

In his opening statement this morning, Walberg, chairman of the Workforce Protections Subcommittee, said:

More recently, the Department of Labor upended decades of policy to impose Davis-Bacon requirements on a new group of workers. Since the Kennedy administration, land surveyors have been exempt from the law because their work is a “pre-construction” activity. But last March, the department reversed this policy by reclassifying surveyors as laborers and mechanics. This dramatic shift in policy came without notice or an opportunity for public comment. To make matters worse, the department has failed to make a wage rate available to survey crews. The confusion and uncertainty borne by this bureaucratic overreach will affect workers and construction projects across the country.

Curtis Sumner, executive director of the National Society of Professional Surveyors,  told the committee that the notification for the change came out on March 23 . “The ruling came at the urging of the International Union of Operating Engineers,” he said.

Sumner called it a “drastic” change and made without any evidence that surveyors were paid substandard wages. He said it would be “an administrative nightmare for surveying firms, contracting agencies and the Labor Department” to implement. He explained:

Survey crews are not like construction workers. A survey crew member may be on a construction site a few hours a day, one day a week, and otherwise on a sporadic and intermittent basis, but rarely an entire 40-hour week. Some work may be preliminary to construction, post-construction, or not related to construction at all. Documenting what every survey crew member is doing every hour of the work day, determining whether an activity is covered or not, construction is related or not, is an expensive, time-consuming and counter-productive burden.