Contracts for construction or renovation of public works are required by the Davis-Bacon Act to pay “prevailing wages”—typically the hourly rate paid on private projects employing union workers. However, contracts for private developments are exempt from this requirement, and instead can pay their employees just the minimum wage—a small fraction of the prevailing-wage standard.
This policy doesn’t favor workers, it favors developers. I strongly support broad application of the prevailing-wage standard to all private construction projects in DC. Higher wages grow the middle-class and restrict the exploitation of workers. Paying a living wage also makes it possible for the people who have been building the countless apartment and condo buildings across our city to actually afford to live here. It's the right thing to do.
Perhaps it will come as no surprise that the DC government has not just been indifferent to the needs of workers but has aggressively schemed to undermine the reach of the Davis-Bacon Act. Instead of entering into contracts for construction of public buildings on District land, our current leadership chooses to contract away the construction to private developers who do not pay prevailing wages. This harms workers, and greatly benefits the developer executives who make regular donations to Charles Allen’s campaign.
In one recent example, the District contracted away its powers and duties to construct the CityCenterDC development. When the Regional Council of Carpenters asked the District to acknowledge that the development had to conform to the prevailing-wage law, they were told that it did not. The union asked the Obama Department of Labor (DOL) to rule that the Davis-Bacon Act required payment of prevailing wages on the project, and DOL did just that, ruling that workers on the project had to be paid prevailing wages. Instead of complying with this ruling, DC sided with the developer and went to court to overturn the DOL order. In 2016, the court ruled that the project was not required to pay prevailing wages.
The District’s role in this anti-worker scheme is disgraceful. Nothing prevents DC from requiring that any contract to develop its property require workers to be paid prevailing wages, yet our leadership goes out of their way to avoid doing so.
We are one of the most progressive cities in America, and we should not accept a system where developers are able to get rich by refusing to pay their workers a living wage. The people who have built apartments, condos, restaurants and shops across our Ward deserve economic security, access to healthcare and a chance to thrive in our city just like any of us. It’s common sense that our city should be paying a fair wage to the skilled workers who construct these major developments.
Charles Allen and his developer friends will tell you that higher wages would increase construction costs and make projects unfeasible. What they’re really saying is that labor should be paid less in order to enhance the profits of developer executives, who work in one of the most lucrative businesses in America. There is no shortage of development in DC, and no shortage of people getting rich from it. Certainly, we can make sure those who are actually doing the work are able to provide for their families. If it means charging Louis Vuitton a few bucks more in monthly rent so they can continue to sell $1,800 shoes at CityCenterDC, so be it.