President Donald Trump speaks as Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao looks on during a policy meeting in April. Chao said Trump's plan to update transportation infrastructure will include wage protections for workers sought by Democrats on Capitol Hill. Pool photo by Olivier Douliery/UPI | License Photo
June 8 (UPI) -- Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said Thursday that President Donald Trump's proposed infrastructure spending would include wage protections for construction workers Democrats have demanded in exchange for their support.
Chao, testifying before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said Trump's proposed infrastructure spending -- one of the few issues on which he and Democrats agree in principle -- will include language guaranteeing fair market wages for workers on the projects. The wage protections, enshrined in federal law more than a century ago under the Davis-Bacon Act, were seen as a precursor to attracting Democratic support for Trump's infrastructure spending plan.
"If [Trump's infrastructure bill] targets unions or leaves Americans worse off, I will fight it every step of the way," Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said during a builders conference in April, according to The Hill. "And if it doesn't include prevailing wages and protect Davis-Bacon, it's a nonstarter -- at least for me."
Trump and congressional Democrats generally agree the nation's transportation system -- highways, bridges, airports, railroads, etc. -- needs a major overhaul. The spending plan could create tens of thousands of construction jobs and boost local economies. Such a plan appeals to the traditional Democratic support base of organized labor, but also the millions of blue collar workers who supported Trump.
"We are here to talk about rebuilding our nation's infrastructure. Isn't it about time?" Trump said in a speech in Ohio on Wednesday. "We are spending money all over the world, except here. We don't spend our money here, we spend it all over -- and we'll do it using American labor, American energy, American iron, aluminum and steel."
Though Trump has yet to lay out any specific plans, it's likely the cost of a major infrastructure bill would stretch into the hundreds of billions, a price tag that GOP spending and deficit hawks might oppose.
The inclusion of Davis-Bacon wage protections in the legislation could complicate the effort to win over some Republican lawmakers. In the past, conservatives have fought to water down wage protections on federal sending projects, arguing they make it more expensive for taxpayers and more difficult for contractors to complete on budget.