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Davis-Bacon Act (1931)



The Davis-Bacon Act (1931) requires federal contractors to pay construction workers the local "prevailing wage." Its goal was to outlaw wage exploitation, since public contracts go to the lowest bidder. Critics insist the law is outdated and forces governments to pay more than is necessary for public projects. Ironically, an Act championed by Republicans has been suspended most almost exclusively by Republican Presidents.

Current Controversy:

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, on 8 Sepember 2005, President Bush waived Davis-Bacon wager requirements in damaged Gulf Coast regions. A bi-partisan outcry led to his rescinding that action in late October, effective 8 November 2005. Obsevers note that Gulf Coast wages were already below the national average; thus the impact on corporate bottom line would be minimal.

Legislative History:

Several Depression-era laws deal with wages. In 1931, the Davis-Bacon Act became law; it was signed 3 March 1931 and became effective that day. Five years later, 30 June 1936, the Walsh Healey Public Contracts Act became law; it, too, was effective on signature. Two years later, 25 June 1938, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was signed; it was effective 24 October 1938. Then 1941, the US Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of FLSA.


The act is named after its sponsors, Sen. James "Puddler Jim" Davis (R-PA) (former Secretary of Labor under three presidents) and Representative Robert L. Bacon (R-NY). All federal government construction contracts valued more than $2,000 must pay workers no less than "locally prevailing wages" as determined by the Department of Labor, under FLSA.


In 1934, President Roosevelt (D) suspended the Act for three weeks for administrative reasons. President Nixon (R) suspended the Act for 28 days in February 1971 in an attempt to hold down inflation. The most protracted suspensionn came in 1992, when President HW Bush (R) suspended the Act to assist in recovery from Hurricane Andrew; President Clinton (D) re-enacted the Act in March 1993. In 2005, President GW Bush (R) suspended the Act for two months.
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