In Reason's November 2010 issue we presented "14 ways to dismantle a monstrous government, one program at a time." One such program singled out for destruction was the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931, a federal statute requiring all workers on federal projects costing more than $2,000 to be paid the "prevailing wage," which typically means the hourly rate set by local unions. As I explained in that story, thanks to Davis-Bacon, "for nearly 80 years, contractors working on federally funded construction projects have been forced to pay their workers artificially inflated wages that rip off American taxpayers while lining the pockets of organized labor." To make matters worse, the law's origins happen to be explicitly racist:
Davis-Bacon was born as a racist reaction to the presence of Southern black construction workers on a Long Island, New York, veterans hospital project. This "cheap" and "bootleg" labor was denounced by Rep. Robert L. Bacon (R-N.Y), who introduced the legislation. American Federation of Labor President William Green eagerly testified in support of the law before the U.S. Senate, claiming that "colored labor is being brought in to demoralize wage rates." The result was that black workers, who were largely unskilled and therefore counted on being able to compete by working for lower wages, were essentially excluded from the upcoming New Deal construction spree.
Today Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) introduced legislation he is calling the "Davis-Bacon Repeal Act." As he explained in a statement, Davis-Bacon "crowds out low-skilled workers in the construction industry, preventing them from getting a fair shot at a job, and funnels taxpayer money to prop up big labor unions, which accrue windfall profits as Davis-Bacon removes the incentive for federal contractors to hire unskilled, non-unionized workers."
Last week Reason TV's Nick Gillespie interviewed Sen. Lee about the rise of the Tea Party faction in Congress.