Briefing Paper No. 17

The Davis-Bacon Act: Let’s Bring Jim Crow to an End

Executive Summary

The Davis-Bacon Act, which requires that federal construction contractors pay their workers “prevailing wages,” was passed by Congress in 1931 with the intent of favoring white workers who belonged to white-only unions over non-unionized black workers. The act continues to have discriminatory effects today by favoring disproportionately white, skilled and unionized construction workers over disproportionately black, unskilled and non-unionized construction workers. Because Davis-Bacon was passed with discriminatory intent and continues to have discriminatory effects, its enforcement violates the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection of the law. President-elect Clinton and Labor Secretary-designate Reich should therefore exercise their power of “executive review” and refuse to enforce Davis-Bacon.

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David Bernstein, a recent graduate of the Yale Law School, and clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, practices law with the Washington, D.C., law firm of Crowell and Moring.