Remarks of Paul McKenzie at the Prevailing Wage Rally Nevada Legislature 19 May 2011

PROTESTING THE DEPORTATION OF NEVADA JOBS (Reno, Nev., 5-13-2010) — TOP: More than 200 union construction workers march on the UNR campus. BOTTOM: Reno Gazette-Journal reporter Victor Calderon interviews Paul McKenzie, executive secretary-treasurer of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Northern Nevada/AFL-CIO while Painters Local 567 retiree Mo Hursh poses as the Grim Reaper. [UPDATE: Brother Hursh and his sleeping quarters were also prominently featured in front of the Nevada State Legislature on 5-19-2011 as McKenzie addressed a crowd of more than 300 workers from all over the state.]

Good afternoon Brothers and Sisters. We welcome you to Carson City.

As you know our state is in a battle for survival, as Nevada’s middle class is being held hostage by the governor, his political party and the Chamber of Commerce. We are gathered today to let our representatives know enough is enough, quit balancing the budget on the backs of working Nevadans.

The majority of you who are here today are construction workers you make a living building the infrastructure of this state.

You are paid a living wage to do this due to the passage – during the last Great Depression — of an act called the Davis Bacon Act.

The Davis Bacon Act was passed by a Republican Congress and signed into law by Republican President Herbert Hoover in 1931.

Republican Representative Robert Bacon who sponsored the legislation justified the measure as follows:

"The Government is engaged in building in my district a Veteran’s Bureau hospital. Bids were asked for. Several New York contractors bid, and in their bids, of course, they had to take into consideration the high labor standards prevailing in the State of New York. The bid, however, was let to a firm from Alabama who had brought some thousand non-union laborers from Alabama into Long Island, N.Y.; into my district. They were herded onto this job, they were housed in shacks, they were paid a very low wage, and the work proceeded...It seemed to me that the federal Government should not engage in construction work in any state and undermine the labor conditions and the labor wages paid in that State...The least the federal Government can do is comply with the local standards of wages and labor prevailing in the locality where the building construction is to take place."

Nevada’s “Little Davis-Bacon Act” was signed into law in 1937, thereby expanding the prevailing wage requirements to state-funded projects as well. Those were hard times – the economy in a shambles. Governmental leaders were jealous of the monies spent by the governmental bodies, insisting dollars spent on projects within the state should remain in the state to help rebuild the local economy.

Today we face much the same circumstances, as many of the public works projects being done within the State of Nevada are being done by out-of-state contractors. Contractors who bid jobs with the intention of underpaying their workers on the job — contractors who import workers from their home states – workers who for fear of loss of their job are willing to work for whatever their boss is willing to pay – workers who take what money they do make home with them rather than reinvesting in Nevada’s economy, thereby hobbling the economic recovery this state needs.

This problem is made worse by public bodies and a labor commissioner who ignore the violations committed by these contractors – refusing to enforce the prevailing wage laws unless complaints are filed and then refusing to penalize the contractors who are violating the laws of this state and profiting from cheating the workers out of a living wage.

Today, Brothers and Sisters, in the halls of this legislature, there are men and women, who claim to be representing your interests, who are hoping to weaken these prevailing wage laws which were intended to protect you — weaken those laws at a time when they should be strengthened.

Across this pavilion there sits a governor who refuses to replace a non-efficient labor commissioner, a labor commissioner who refuses to enforce the labor laws of this great state because he doesn’t agree with them.

Today in these hallways you will meet lobbyists from the Chamber of Commerce who feel you should not make a living wage – evidently not understanding that only if you have money to spend will their members be able to run profitable businesses.

In these hallways you will meet lobbyists for the ABC (Associated Builders & Contractors) who would weaken the current prevailing wage laws so their contractor members could lead a race to the bottom.

I heard an officer of the ABC from southern Nevada testify in a senate committee hearing this year that he was upset with the prevailing wage laws of the state.

He is upset because those laws require him to pay his laborers $ 38 per hour, the union wage which includes health and welfare, retirement, training and vacation benefits. He didn’t believe this was right because he normally paid his laborers $12 per hour.

He hates the idea of paying his workers a living wage so much, he testified, that he was willing to pay Labor Ready $72 per hour for laborers, rather than pay his workers what he feels is an unreasonable wage.

This is the attitude we are faced with this year in a legislative session where civility was checked at the door on the first day of the session and the battle lines were clearly drawn. — Where the (Republican) minority caucus in both houses clearly stated on the first day of this legislative session that they would be unwilling to even discuss generating the revenue needed to balance the state's budget and properly fund your children’s education unless the (Democratic) majority party was willing to attack the working men and women of this state.

So here you are brothers and sisters. You are the hostages of Nevada’s governor and his political party. You are the hostages of the Chamber of Commerce. And they are holding you and your future hostage, not to fix the problems of this state, but rather only after you have been sacrificed will they be willing to discuss – I repeat, not agree to — but discuss a way to fix Nevada’s financial woes.

You the unemployed and the underemployed are to be sacrificed so the Chamber of Commerce and their members may prosper.

You the unemployed and the underemployed are to be sacrificed so the foreign-owned mining interests in this state do not have to pay reasonable taxes.

You the unemployed and the underemployed are to be sacrificed so the renewable energy industry can receive tax incentives for building in the state and importing the construction work force from outside the state to build their projects.

You the unemployed and the underemployed are to be sacrificed so the governor in the name of economic development can give incentives to companies like Wal-Mart and Amazon dot com who do not pay living wages or provide benefits for their workers, and do not make a substantial contribution to the tax base of the state.

You have one saving grace as the governor and the minority party plot your sacrifice – you have the majority Leadership in the legislature of this great state who have been working 16 hours a day six days a week since February trying to figure out a way to:

  • Properly fund education
  • Maintain the social services which are more in demand with these economic times than they have ever been
  • Fund the needed public safety requirements of the state
  • And trying to prevent the hostages — you the unemployed and the underemployed — from being sacrificed.

As you go inside today, take the time to thank those who have stood to protect you and ask those who would sacrifice you – WHY?


Paul McKenzie is executive secretary-treasurer of the Building & Construction Trades Council of Northern Nevada/AFL-CIO.

Bro. McKenzie is a featured player on the May 17 Barbwire TV program.

Back to the 22 May 2011 Barbwire

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