Kay Day Conservative Examiner September 2, 2011
Most Americans today would probably be unable to talk at length about the Davis-Bacon Act, commonly called ‘Prevailing Wages.’ After all, the act was originally passed in 1931. Since then it has been suspended—even by presidential executive order—and then reinstated several times.
Stacy Swimp, a national public speaker and Project 21 member, could sum up his feelings about the act in a single word: Repeal.
Davis-Bacon has a troubled, complex history. Proponents of the bill believe it protects workers from exploitation. At inception the bill was promoted as a means of protecting workers on federal construction projects like the Mississippi levee project. Newspapers like The Pittsburgh Press ran stories about the “beating and slugging of Negro workers, forced work of from 12-18 hours a day, wages running from 75 cents to $2, and ‘intolerable’ camp conditions.” [Dec. 7, 1931]
Critics, however, see that justification as purely political.
Swimp told National Conservative Examiner that Davis-Bacon is “the only Jim Crow law that remains in America today.” Swimp said the act was created for one purpose—“to keep blacks from competing in federal construction jobs with white union workers.” He said when the act was passed, “Most unions representing skilled construction workers actually excluded black construction workers.”
Swimp, a conservative who lives in Michigan, sounded very exasperated with the approach some politicians are taking towards unemployment in the U.S. Instead of racially-based rhetoric, he wants a rational, common sense approach. “Let’s talk about policies and the regulations politicians vote for,” he said.
Nationally syndicated columnist Walter Williams supports Swimp’s position on Davis-Bacon. Williams pointed out some of the history on the act in a recent column:
“During the bill’s legislative debate, the racial objectives were clear. Rep. John Cochran, D-Mo., said he had “received numerous complaints … about Southern contractors employing low-paid colored mechanics getting work and bringing the employees from the South.” Rep. Clayton Allgood, D-Ala., complained: “Reference has been made to a contractor from Alabama who went to New York with bootleg labor. … That contractor has cheap colored labor that he transports, and he puts them in cabins, and it is labor of that sort that is in competition with white labor throughout the country.” Rep. William Upshaw, D-Ga., spoke of the “superabundance or large aggregation of Negro labor.” American Federation of Labor President William Green said, “Colored labor is being sought to demoralize wage rates.” For decades after Davis-Bacon enactment, black workers on federally financed or assisted construction projects virtually disappeared. The Davis-Bacon Act is still on the books, and tragically today’s black congressmen, doing the bidding of their labor union allies, vote against any effort to modify or eliminate its restrictions.”
Williams points out that current black unemployment rates are currently 17 percent for adults and 40 percent for black teens.
Swimp believes President Barack Obama and some members of the Congressional Black Caucus aren’t addressing this issue properly. “They’re trying to distract their voting constituency,” he said, “making them think Republicans and/or the Tea Party people are somehow adversarial.” Swimp suggested progressives “are the ones voting for policies that are killing jobs in inner cities.”
Swimp points to votes by Rep. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) as an example, saying she has “the worst voting record” on conservatism and job-friendly bills. “From 1999-2009,” Swimp said, “Michigan ranked number 50 in creating private sector jobs.”
Swimp also points out that the current tax code in the U.S. is among the worst. He said the code “penalizes businesses for doing business here and penalizes them for not doing business here.”
He believes Davis-Bacon is actually a jobs killer, and figures from the Heritage Foundation bolster his argument.
In Web Memo #3145, Heritage asserted, “The Davis–Bacon Act (DBA) requires the government to pay construction wages that average 22 percent above market rates. This shields unions from competition on federal construction projects.”
The act is also laden with regulations, potentially creating a barrier for small construction firms who lack expensive legal counsel to ensure compliance.
Heritage said the law remains on the books because unions lobby for it. The net result is a wage rate subject to diktat by the federal government. Heritage found, “[S]uspending the DBA would make each public construction dollar go 9.9 percent further. This would create more bridges and buildings at the same cost to taxpayers. It would also employ 155,000 more construction workers.”
Swimp addresses Davis-Bacon in speeches he makes to groups and trade associations, but he hopes to increase awareness in the general public as well. He wants constituents to contact their representatives and ask them to support the repeal of the Davis Bacon Act. Swimp said Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) and Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) had introduced HR 745 and HR 745 to that end.
Swimp said Davis-Bacon is “an 80-year old corporate subsidy, a union subsidy administered by the Dept. of Labor.” He said the Act actually increases project costs by $26-50 per hour higher than the standard market value, according to information from Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc.
Swimp’s personal story is remarkable. He shares his upbringing in a poignant column, No Longer a Slave, published at We Are Politics. He said he grew up in a dysfunctional home, “mentally shackled by miseducation.” Although he could read by the age of 4, he said he later became “functionally illiterate.”
Swimp’s troubled youth led him to a life on the streets and an experience in the justice system. In the afore-mentioned column, he talks about individuals who mentored him and worked alongside him as he made his way to redemption and success. He credits a number of conservatives for making a difference in his life.
Besides a busy public speaking schedule, Swimp also does a radio show each Wednesday during the Bill Frady show on WOIC AM-1230 radio at 8:05 a.m.
Although he admits he’s faced criticism for being a conservative, Swimp isn’t fazed. “The idea of pigeon-holing me according to the color of my skin—that’s what we’re trying to get away from,” he said. “We all appreciate our heritage—we don’t need it to become a divisive factor, a wall, between other Americans of different descent. We’re all Americans.”
Swimp provided his contact information for groups and organizations interested in learning more about his work. Email him at stacyswimp (at) stacyswimp.com. Or follow him on Twitter: @stacyswimp.