Academic journal article Labor Law Journal

Who Promised Fair? Improving the Construction Industry Part II

Academic journal article Labor Law Journal

Who Promised Fair? Improving the Construction Industry Part II

Article excerpt

I. Intent of Davis-Bacon

Congressman Robert L. Bacon (R-NY) of Long Island, New York, introduced the Davis-Bacon Act in 1931 after a general contractor hired black construction tradesmen from Alabama to build a Veterans Hospital in Bacon's congressional district. Congress' ostensible legislative purpose in passing the Act was to protect local jobs and wage rates from out of state competition during a postDepression economy. However, evidence in the form of statements from other Congressmen who voted for the Act suggested they were concerned about "colored" workers being transported from the South to compete with local whites for local jobs on federal projects. President of the AFL William Green, in supporting Bacon's bill, said that he was concerned that "colored labor is being sought to demoralize wage rates."

II. Davis-Bacon Statistics

An excellent report on the construction industry and its challenges was done by the Center for Construction Industry Studies at the University of Texas at Austin entitled Key Workforce Challenges Facing the American Construction Industry: An Interim Assessment (the U of T report).1 Its conclusions are relevant in evaluating the Davis-Bacon Act as well as the profile of future apprentices and trainees in construction.

Many of the Davis-Bacon studies, both pro and con, attempt to use and compare statistics regarding the level of employment of minorities and non-minorities in states both with, and without, federal and state DavisBacon laws. Commenting on the validity of statistical data in analyzing the construction workforce, the U of T report notes:

Accurate statistical information describing and characterizing the construction industry and its workforce is difficult to obtain. Accurate data collection is troublesome in part because of the unique characteristics of the construction industry... Several key sources of data and analysis do (sic) exist; however, all statistical information on the industry should be viewed with skepticism.

One construction industry economist notes that "economic analysis is confronted with issues of comparability."2 It is indeed difficult to draw accurate conclusions from data generated based upon different sized projects, geographic locations, time frames, and types of construction. For example, Dale Belman, a supporter of construction wage regulation, analyzes the effect of state prevailing wage laws on the racial composition of the construction labor force, stating that:

Our research finds no relationship between prevailing wage statutes and the racial composition of the construction labor force. There is a simple negative correlation between prevailing wage laws and the probability of observing an African American in the blue collar construction labor force. Although this is consistent with the views of the critics of prevailing wage laws, it neglects the role of the racial composition of labor supply on the characteristics of the construction labor force. ..Once we allow for differences in the labor supply between states, there is no evidence of a relationship between state prevailing wage laws and the proportion of African Americans in construction.3

Belman makes it clear that he is evaluating state prevailing wage law and that factors other than wage structures affect black employment:

Analysis of the federal Davis-Bacon Act is difficult as there is little cross sectional or in ter- temp oral variation in provisions and application of the Act.

Descriptive statistics are, in the end, not decisive because we do not believe that prevailing wage laws and the racial makeup of the labor force are the only factors affecting African American representation in construction.4

Belman's implied reference to other factors such as discrimination in access to education, training, and employment opportunities is quite clear. Statistics do not explain everything.

As noted in the U of T Report, use of statistics in evaluating the construction industry is difficult, particularly if the analysis does not distinguish between the individual trade disciplines. …

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