Is it appropriate for Congress to continue a Jim Crow Law

Black and minority workers are generally unable to get jobs on Davis-Bacon projects, and still widely barred from Department of Labor union apprenticeship programs for Davis-Bacon purposes.

MICHIGAN, July 26, 2012 — On July 19, 2012, at approximately 10:30 pm, the United States House of Representatives passed the $606 billion defense spending bill — the Defense Department Appropriations Act (H.R. 5856) — by a vote of 326 to 90.

With practically all of the media attention focused on the cuts to defense spending, there has been no scrutiny of the amendment to the Appropriations Act proposed by Congressman Steve King (R-IA) that sought to repeal the only remaining Jim Crow Law in America: the Davis-Bacon Act.

The Davis-Bacon Act is an 81-year-old Jim Crow Law administered by the U.S. Department of Labor (DoL) that mandates so-called “prevailing” wages for employees of contractors and subcontractors performing work on federally financed construction.

The Act was specifically created to keep Black non-union construction workers from taking jobs from white (only) unions in construction.

Economist, Walter Williams, published a compelling video on the racist origin and consequence of The Davis Act in March 2011:


Congressman King introduced an amendment to prohibit the use of funds to administer the wage-rate requirements of subchapter IV of chapter 31 of title 40, United States Code (Davis-Bacon Act), with respect to any project or program funded by this bill.The amendment was defeated by a vote of 235-182 (Roll Call 486)

Stunningly, 50 Republicans “crossed over” and voted with liberal Democrat Representatives to help defeat Congressman Steve King’s mission to put an end to racial discrimination in labor, unnecessary tax increases, and enormous losses in construction jobs annually.

Congressman Steve King did not mince words in responding to the House’s refusal to Repeal Davis Bacon: “I spent my life in the construction industry so I’ve seen all sides of Davis-Bacon. I’ve been a recipient of Davis- Bacon wages, I’ve paid Davis-Bacon wages, and I’ve done a fair amount of reporting those wages into the bureaucrats. This act artificially increases the costs of projects. Congress must preciously guard tax payer money - and it is irresponsible of us to support this when we have $16 trillion dollars of national debt. For example, if we let competition set the wages, we could build 5 hospitals instead 4. We don’t need wage protectionism and I’m pledged to undo this. We believe in competition and we need to protect the taxpayer.”

King also provided a strong indictment of fellow Republicans who to support the Davis Bacon Act: “Free market Republicans and conservative Democrats have no policy reason to support Davis-Bacon.”

From a fiscal standpoint, the Act also causes problems. A Congressional Budget Office estimate found the Davis-Bacon Act raises federal construction costs by $15.7 billion. Numerous academic studies have shown that repeal of the act would create real and substantial savings to the government. (Source: Associated, Contractors and Builders: 112th Congressional Priority Issues; 2011 GAO Report)

Congressman Walberg , Chairman of the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, responded to my inquiry: “I was disappointed by the recent vote. The implementation of the law has been flawed and it is no longer meeting the needs of today’s taxpayers and workers.”

Walberg concluded: “While intended as a temporary effort 80 years ago, the Davis-Bacon Act remains a significant feature of federal spending to this day. The Government Accountability Office (GOA) revealed problems with accuracy, quality, bias and timeliness of the wage data. The report also identified a lack of transparency about how wage rates are determined, raising concerns for businesses trying to bid for work and taxpayers who want to ensure their dollars aren’t being wasted.”

In 1964, The U.S. Congress passed the Landmark “Civil Rights Act”. This Act was intended to make “illegal” any forms of discrimination against Black Americans, including in the workplace. Black and White Americans gave their lives together to fight for equality for all.

The Davis-Bacon Act is a direct violation of the Civil Rights Act.

Numerous studies have shown that Black and minority workers are still generally unable to get jobs on Davis-Bacon projects, as they are still disproportionately barred from union apprenticeship programs approved by the Department of Labor for Davis-Bacon purposes.

It is interesting that the N.A.A.C.P., The Congressional Black Caucus, Rev. Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and other liberal Black leaders have remained silent in the face of blatant discrimination against Black Americans by the Davis-Bacon Act.

Most disappointing is the failure of President Barack Obama to keep his promise to Black Americans to take aggressive steps to reduce their disproportionately high unemployment rates.

The Davis-Bacon Act is a major contributor to Black unemployment, which is now at 14.4 percent, compared to a national rate of 8.2.

In the final analysis, it would indeed appear to be highly inappropriate for Congress to reject repeal of a law that not only discriminates against Black workers, but serves to put a nation already suffering from insurmountable debt into further debt.


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Stacy Swimp

Stacy is a member of and a spokesperson for Project 21 - The National Leadership Network of Black Conservatives, a national speaker's bureau.  He is president of the Frederick Douglass Society, a public policy and education institution, and he is host of Contagious Transformation, a weekly conservative political commentary internet radio program.

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