LANSING, Mich. (AP/WOOD) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer says Michigan will pay higher “prevailing” wages on state construction projects, three years after Republican legislators repealed a long-standing law that required better pay.

The Democratic governor said Thursday that the cancellation of the law does not preclude her from implementing a prevailing wage policy for state contracts.

She calls it the “right policy” and one that benefits many.

Ryan Bennett, the president of the West Michigan Building Trades Council, says the governor’s decision will benefit Michiganders.

“It’s a victory for everyone that works in the construction industry,” Bennett said. “Since the repeal of prevailing wage went through, it’s a race to the bottom on construction wages and it’s unfair for contractors to win state- and publicly-funded projects because they pay their people less than the going rate for labor.”

Bennett is also the business manager of the West Michigan Plumbers Fitters and Service Trades Local Union 174. He says the decision will result in higher quality work.

“You see increases in things like worker productivity, worker safety, less down time, fewer call backs once the job is complete, so it really is in place to protect the tax payers,” Bennett said.

Republican State Rep. Thomas Albert of Lowell is the chair of the Michigan House Appropriations Committee and says the way the policy is being changed circumvents the Legislature, which approved the repeal in 2018.

“We voted to approve a citizen-initiated legislation. Frankly, this is very divisive and it’s not very helpful. I think we just got done with the budget process. We were able to come together and this is just creating division,” Albert said. “What prevailing wage does is it artificially inflates wages and it’s the state taxpayer… who’s on the hook to actually pay for those.”  

Albert says the move will be a setback in getting projects funded with federal COVID relief dollars being provided to the states.

“We have billions of dollars right now sitting on the sidelines and we would like to get that cash to work to help Michigan families. This makes it much much harder to do stuff like this when the governor moves unilaterally which makes it harder for me to do my job, which is to get legislation to her desk,” Albert said.

The announcement drew criticism from an association of nonunion contractors that primarily funded a ballot initiative that enabled lawmakers to rescind the law despite then-Gov. Rick Snyder’s objections.

Associated Builders and Contractors of Michigan President Jimmy Greene says it is illegal.