March 2015

Hats off for Decades of Loyal Service for All Who Labor

“It’s time to move on! 34 years is a pretty good run, don’t you agree?” These were the parting words of the outgoing Timothy J. Helm, chief, Branch of Government Contracts Enforcement, Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor, upon announcing his retirement.

We can be sure that the “enforcement” ship has been clearly headed in a better direction for the last six years. A good soldier through successive administrations of all stripes, Helm worked hard in his final years in being able to again make it a proud department dedicated to workers. 

As an educator on recent Davis-Bacon seminars, he seemed very much in his element: teaching scores of workers, labor reps, municipal officials, etc. about the ins and outs of federal contracting around the country. Most importantly, he truly listened to all workers. Be they those unrepresented by any collective bargaining, or those labor representatives elected by the very working people on the name of the Frances Perkins Building itself: the “Department of Labor” headquarters at 200 Constitution Avenue, N.W., in Washington, D.C. 

It’s too often forgotten that the DOL’s mission statement remains: “To foster, promote, and develop the welfare of the wage earners, job seekers, and retirees of the United States; improve working conditions; advance opportunities for profitable employment; and assure work-related benefits and rights.” Let this be a credo embraced by all forthcoming generations who will serve ironworkers (and all building tradesmen and all workers) while under employ of the U.S. Department of Labor. Congratulations to Mr. Helm.

I was once told of it being a “cheater’s paradise” out there on public works projects covered by federal Davis-Bacon prevailing wages. That’s still the case too often. But with a numerous crop of new investigators eager to see do their jobs well, I’ve often said this is changing and part of an ongoing revision of priorities. Let’s take a look at just one of the recent charts newly released by the DOL showing the contrasts since 2008. 

While there is some drop-off in recent years in terms of completed cases, we still see some 1,463 completed Davis-Bacon cases last year versus the miniscule 345 of 2009. And maybe, just maybe, in some places the word is getting out that “enforcement is back.”

None of this is to excuse the rare occasional hard-to-reach officials I hear about, those that seem to turn a blind eye to wage violations (at various agencies), but it does help us to see the bigger picture. What I’d like to see from more Iron Worker locals (plus contractors and more) is more feedback so we can truly pursue the cheaters. 

Wage Surveys in 2015

New surveys are on tap in this year in New Hampshire (Heavy & Bldg.): North and South Carolina (Residential); Alabama (Bldg., Heavy & Highway); Arkansas (Bldg. and Heavy); Kansas (Residential); Minnesota (Bldg.); Mississippi (Bldg. and Heavy); and Alaska (Residential). Nearing spring deadlines are Massachusetts and Maine.

Speaking of which, this long, hard winter is nearing an end. Let’s be part of an Easter rebirth in our commitment to defend and see these laws again work for us and to continue to speak up for good jobs for all working people.