How to Lose Jobs Through Racial Discrimination

Obama’s economy

[Featured among ‘Top Links on This Topic’ by Huffington Post: ‘Davis-Bacon Act: Depression-Era Law Becomes Unlikely GOP Campaign Issue’ — click here to read more]

A new spending proposal from Barack Obama will keep Americans unemployed through a provision intended to discriminate against “Negro laborers”

More Crony Capitalism by Obama

Barack Obama is sending a clear signal that Democrats are in full-blown election mode with his new spending proposal to deprive construction workers of jobs if they don’t belong to a labor union.

Unveiling his American Jobs Act to the support of labor unions that give him campaign money, Obama said, “It will lead to new jobs for construction workers.”

But black construction workers can expect fewer jobs than their white counterparts.

Infamous Union Protection

Similar to his previous proposals that have failed, Obama’s new spending proposal is full of problems that show he remains more interested in politics than in doing what’s needed to reduce unemployment, which at 9.1 percent remains higher than the eight-percent maximum he promised.

A big problem with Obama’s new proposal is a wage-rate provision that protects unions from competition on construction projects. In a prior analysis of the provision, James Sherk, Senior Policy Analyst in Labor Economics at The Heritage Foundation, found that Obama’s union protection “artificially inflated wages at the cost of keeping others unemployed.”

But most problematic about Obama’s new $447-billion spending bill is that the same provision responsible for artificially inflating wages, thus keeping American construction workers unemployed, is none other than Subchapter IV of Chapter 31 of Title 40, United States Code — otherwise known as the infamous Davis-Bacon Act.

Return of Jim Crow

Wanting to prevent black workers from competing with whites for construction jobs, Rep. Robert Bacon (R-NY) introduced legislation to Congress in 1927 after a contractor hired blacks from Alabama to build a hospital in his district, says Professor David Bernstein of the George Mason University School of Law.

Bacon’s bill was later co-sponsored by a fellow avowed racist, Sen. James Davis (R-PA), who sympathized with Bacon’s complaints about the “outfit of Negro laborers” who worked on the hospital. Davis-Bacon’s legislative history is punctuated by repeated complaints from various congressmen about African-American construction workers stealing jobs from “white labor.”

Despite its racist legislative history, union leaders emphasize how the Davis-Bacon Act doesn’t explicitly state that union wages have to be paid. Arguing against what he believes to be misconceptions about Davis-Bacon, Edward Sullivan, president of the Building and Construction Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, says, “It is not, and never has been, a mandate for the payment of union wages.”

Bush the Emancipator

But as Bernstein notes, “Davis-Bacon forces federal contractors to pay their workers the ‘prevailing wage,'” which is determined by union wages and “often much higher than average local wages.”

Bernstein also mentions the irony of President George W. Bush being accused of insensitivity toward minorities for his proclamation to suspend  the Davis-Bacon Act in areas affected by Hurricane Katrina, when he in fact eliminated discrimination by making it possible for unskilled workers to participate in reconstruction efforts.

Executive Review

Sherk further explains how any well-meaning in Obama’s spending proposal is rendered ineffective in the economy, due to Davis-Bacon artificially inflating average construction wages by 22 percent.

America can no longer afford such special-interest handouts. If Congress is serious about reducing spending or lowering unemployment, it should repeal the Davis-Bacon Act … Congress should stop requiring the federal government to hire four construction workers for the price of five.

The Davis-Bacon Act continues to discriminate on the basis of race by favoring union construction workers over non-union construction workers, who remain white and black, respectively, in disproportionate numbers. It violates the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the 14th Amendment, thus making it the president’s duty to engage in executive review and refuse enforcing such unconstitutional legislation.

When that occurs, one of the last, remaining elements of Jim-Crow injustice in America will be eliminated.

We have not yet begun to succeed — join me


David E. Bernstein, Only One Place of Redress: African Americans, Labor Regulations, and the Courts from Reconstruction to the New Deal (Durham: Duke University Press, 2000).

Barack Obama, “Address by the President to a Joint Session of Congress,” The White House, September 8, 2011.