The Davis-Bacon Act: Job Killing Since 1931

By Takia Hollowell

Ever drive by a construction site and wonder, “Why aren’t very many blacks visible in this industry?”  During my lifetime, I’ve heard this question asked quite a bit.  I’ve heard the notorious Al Sharpton recently rant against this epidemic and demand that construction sites without blacks be shut down.  Even Harry Alford-I of the Black Chamber of Commerce has stated:

“It is more than 44 years since the Civil Rights Act, and the construction trades are no better today than they were during the struggles of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”

If you’re wondering why jobs of this nature aren’t very prevalent in urban areas, then look no further than to the monstrosity of the Davis-Bacon Act.


The upheaval of the Davis-Bacon Act began in 1927 after a contractor from Alabama secured a bid to build a Veteran’s hospital in Long Island, NY.  As it was discovered that the contractor brought black construction workers from Alabama to conduct the work; Representative Robert Bacon was disturbed to see “coloreds” take work away from “white labor” in his district.  Being that unions were created to keep blacks out of the workforce during those times, Representative Bacon developed legislation that would force contractors to pay its employees the prevailing/union wage in order to secure a federal contract. (See: US Congress House Committee of Labor, Letter of Ethelbert Stewart, pg 17, March 6, 1930)  The intention was to put a stop to black labor from constantly outbidding higher paid white unions in securing federal contracts.

The racist overtone of the legislation was no hidden agenda as Congressman Upshaw openly argued on the House floor, “You will not think that a southern man is more human if he smiles over the fact of your reaction to that real problem you are confronted within any community with a superabundance or large aggression of negro labor.” (Ibid, pg. 3)  Fortunately during this time, their efforts failed to regulate the labor industry but the attempts did not stop there.

In Representative Bacon’s relentless pursuit to legalize prevailing white union wages, he joined forces with Senator James Davis in 1931 to garner enough support for the bill to pass.  During House floor debates, many other racist arguments surfaced in support of the new act.  Congressman Miles Allgood stated: “See, that contractor over there 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.” (See: US House of Representatives, Congressional Record, 71st Congress 3rd Session, 1931, p 6513)

The Davis Bacon Act proved to be detrimental during the Great Depression as “white salaries” were protected from cheaper black labor.  Unskilled black workers were almost never admitted into unions and were not able to build a skill set or find employment. From 1931 to the 1950’s, blacks were still barred from the unions of sheet metal workers, plasterers, plumbers, electrical workers, engineers, etc.(See: Herbert Hill, “Racism Within Organized Labor, Journal of Negro Education, 1961, pg. 113)


Despite its historical racist intentions and devastating effects on non-unionized minority workers, the Jesse Jacksons and Maxine Waters of today fight tooth and nail to prevent the Act from being repealed.  You want to know what is even more disgusting?  Many black Democratic leaders are aware of the Act’s discriminatory history yet support it anyway.  Economist Walter E. Williams points this out in his short video.

As unions support Democratic candidates with millions of campaign dollars, the elected officials in turn repay their homage by protecting the harmful legislation. Any opposition or attempt to repeal the Davis Bacon Act is demagogued as, “those evil Conservatives are just trying to hurt the middle class.”  Nothing can be further from the truth as its repeal would open up the flood gates for non-unionized contractors to bid on school projects, highway projects, military projects, hospital projects and more. Furthermore, its repeal would alleviate “the middle class” from footing the bill for the bloated union wages that the Act requires. Highways and schools don’t pay for themselves; the taxpayer does. While the NAACP and others hold their allegiance to unions, they turn a blind eye to the higher tax burden that YOU are forced to pay as contractors can’t secure bids under the local union wage (also known as “the prevailing wage). Can someone tell me how this helps the “middle class” again?

As of late, Congressman Steve King has introduced legislation (HR 745) to repeal the Act but he still needs our support to revive the issue.  The Davis Bacon Act is one of many contributing factors to unemployment being almost double the national average in the black community.  I would encourage everyone to write, call or e-mail their Congressman and spread the word of this egregious legislation.


About sswimp

I am not an "African-American'. I am a proud American, who happens to be of African descent. I am Christian. My personal relationship with Jesus Christ and the Word of God shapes my concepts of what it means to be a conservative. I am Pro Life. Devoted to the principles of free enterprise, limited government,and individual responsibility. I believe in the sanctity of marriage between a man and woman.
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9 Responses to The Davis-Bacon Act: Job Killing Since 1931

  1. I wrote a paper on this law in college. To see black congressmen/women defend the bill is totally repulsive.. Great article Takia..

  2. Chris Kling says:

    and yet… the same people who protect the David-Bacon act are the SAME people protecting illegal immigrants so that THEY can come in and steal jobs by charging less!

  3. Pingback: The Davis-Bacon Act: Job killing Since 1931 |

  4. Very interesting details you have mentioned, thank you for putting up.

  5. caleb butler says:

    You need to learn more about the davisbacon act. It doesnt have anything to do with racism it only has to do with a prevailing wage and benefits paid to workers on a job tied to goverment money. You can be black green yellow or white doesnt matter,and if your are union your not goin to be working under the davisbacon act b/c union workers get paid more than a worker under davisbacon b/c davis bacon is an average of all wages in that area union or not. i know this b/c i work maintenance for the army union and there are davis bacon people on the same job under new construction. Its just set up so that workers on jobs with goverment money get paid decent and to keep shotty contracters off a goverment job b/c the poor craftmanship lingers long after the cheap price is gone.And by the way davis bacon wasnt based on racism b/c u can still be black and work davis bacon and u dont have to be union so stop shooting out this line of bull b/c im not ignorant enough to believe it.

  6. Bob Wagner says:

    I shared on FB. Great article and hard story to tell. People are hard to convince if the story is more than 15 seconds. I’ve been railing about this for 30 years. I wonder if it’s ever discussed in universities these days. Good luck.

  7. Dennis says:

    I teach classes on Legislative issues that affect workers, Davis-Bacon Act being just one of those that I teach. Please note that Davis-Bacon was not made law to discriminate against Blacks or any other minority it was to make sure that contractors were forced to pay a living wage, benefits and per-diem for those that worked on US Government Contracts regarding construction. In truth what was happening was that white owned construction companies were coming out of the South with a poorly trained work force, bidding just enough under the local contractors to get the work, paying their people very low wages, working them in deplorable conditions, forcing them to live in even more deplorable conditions and then the white owned contractor would return home with the majority of the money leaving the workers to figure out how to get back home on their own after the work was completed. This was not a way to a true skilled craft, just a cheap workforce that allowed white owned contractors to reap vast amounts of money off their hard work. In the end the work was shoddy, the buildings and construction was substandard, which cost the taxpayers even more in the end to bring the construction that was performed up to code or standards that the taxpayers had paid for but did not receive. In truth almost every prevailing wage job that is put out for bid today has incentives for minority owned contractors giving them preference when competing for a prevailing wage job. Not only this, almost every prevailing wage job requires apprentice help in the labor force which leads to a skilled work force as well as requirements for minorities on these jobs. By the way, prevailing wage jobs are predominately performed by non-union contractors and workers not union. In truth the actual % of union workers in the construction field is less than 7% not 17% as stated in this article, this can be found in US Labor and Statistic information. What we are seeing by such articles and statements is an attempt to mislead the america public that if we just repeal Davis-Bacon and Prevailing Wage we will have more work, this could not be further from the truth, all we will have is a Construction Company making more profits which for the most part do not get into the minority hand that would be performing the work but into the pockets of those that want to perpetuate the race to the bottom. It is just the same old tired story, if we take something from someone we will be able to give you more. But the “you” is never us it is just that 1% who what everything. Workers better wake up and smell the coffee, by repealing Davis-Bacon they want you to think that there will be more work for minorities, this is not true, there will just be more money for the Contractors and those that are the shareholders of these companies.

    • sswimp says:

      Sir, I would respectfully disagree. Where do you “teach legislative issues”? I would be more than happy to do a presentation on the Davis Bacon Act in your class or at your school. I have transcripts to prove that the Davis Bacon Act was created to “stop Negro labor from taking jobs from Whites’ That was precisely the argument on the House Floor. I kindly ask you to do more research. I will provide you with more information is you need it, to ensure your students are give true history and not special interest propaganda.

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