Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) is pushing legislation that would suspend the Davis-Bacon Act’s prevailing-wage provisions on federal highway construction contracts. Supporters of Flake’s bill include the Associated Builders and Contractors. But leaders of the building-trade  unions blasted the proposal.

The legislation, which Flake introduced on Jan. 24, would remove the Dept. of Labor’s ability—under the 86-year-old Davis-Bacon Act—to make wage determinations on federally funded highway projects that “commence” on or after the date the bill is enacted. The legislation had no Senate co-sponsors as of Feb. 10.

Flake contends that Labor Dept. wage surveys are flawed and lead to overspending on labor. Those funds could be used to build bigger, better and more projects, he said. Ben Brubeck, an ABC vice president, said Flake’s measure would ensure that “taxpayers get the best return on their investment.”

Sean McGarvey, Building Trades Unions president for North America, said Davis-Bacon highway construction wages in Arizona would provide annual salaries of about $35,000 for backhoe operators and $31,000 for laborers. “Not exactly a king’s ransom,” he said.

Terry O’Sullivan, general president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, said, “Repealing the Davis-Bacon Act would lower the quality of projects, leading to costly delays, repairs and even re-dos down the line, leaving taxpayers holding the bag.”