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Sunday, September 18, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Prevailing-wage scuffle continues

WASHINGTON — Labor leaders and Democratic lawmakers continue to attack President Bush's suspension of wage-requirement laws in the storm-ravaged Gulf Coast states, saying it's another blow to struggling residents.

Bush on Sept. 8 waived the Davis-Bacon Act for certain counties in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. The law requires the government to pay the standard prevailing wage to workers on federal construction projects.

The White House argued the regulations were slowing reconstruction and increasing federal costs. Critics say waiving the law benefits big contractors at the expense of middle- and low-income workers.

"These are people who have lost their clothing, houses, cars, pets, members of their families," said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif. "As they now try to recover economically, I do not think we should put in place a law that encourages low wages. It's just not fair."

Labor leaders also are urging the Bush administration to repeal the suspension — the AFL-CIO in a letter to Labor Secretary Elaine Chao and the Laborers International Union, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and the International Union of Operating Engineers in a joint letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.

In what may become the next major post-Katrina policy, the Labor Department and White House officials are examining a similar suspension of the McNamara-O'Hara Service Contract Act, which extends prevailing-wage rules to service workers. Administration officials are concerned demolition and debris-removal workers could demand prevailing wages because their duties are more service-related than construction-related.

Any move to lift service-wage supports would elicit protests. Davis-Bacon includes a provision allowing its suspension for disasters. The service contract act does not.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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