Davis-Bacon “Equality”

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by Keoni Galt on February 19, 2012

I entered the air conditioned, job site office trailer for our first safety meeting and orientation. It was my first day on the job working for a sub-contractor hired by a US Mainland-based Marine Engineering Firm that had secured the winning bid on a major renovation project at the Pearl Harbor Naval Station.

I removed my hard hat and looked around the walls of the trailer as I waited for the meeting to begin. I immediately noticed a sign on the trailer wall, notifying employees that they would pay a bonus for any referral of women interested in working on the project. This sign was right next to the sign declaring:

WE ARE AN EQUAL OPPORTUNITY EMPLOYER

I had a vague sense of deja vu, hearing the sounds of the construction site outside. It’s been over a decade, but here I was, back to the blue collar trades to pay the bills.

During the present economic Depression 2.0 era, I’ve discovered that all of the experience gained from the carpentry, painting, roofing, masonry and concrete work I did in the late 90’s to pay my way through college, ended up serving me far better than my BBA Degree when it came time to look for well paying employment in today’s ailing job market.

The business-to-business sales company I’ve worked at for the past decade went bust last October, after 40 years of business in the Downtown Honolulu financial district. I went from hacking away on my keyboard and talking on the phone for eight hours a day in an air conditioned office and a leather bound chair, with a window view of the Pacific Ocean and Honolulu Harbor…to now donning hard hat, steel toed boots, and a reflective safety vest, for a new construction job in a high security area of the Pearl Harbor Shipyard.

(As a side note: I had to endure a two week vetting process of background checks, fingerprinting, photographing and procedure training to gain access to this job…also had to sign a non-disclosure agreement about the work we are doing and the location on Base we are doing it, which is why I’m being intentionally vague about it here).

I turned to the Quality Assurance Officer and inquired about the sign asking employees for female referrals. He grimaced and noted that the company had been threatened with fines for not employing enough female workers.

Some of the current workers had brought their girlfriends and relatives in to work so the company could reach the appropriate quota our US Feministed-Federal Government deemed sufficient for fulfilling the new societal ideal of gender equality in Federal Public Works Projects.

I shook my head and turned my back to the signs reinforcing the Gender-Role Directives of our Government’s Brave New World Order, as our orientation and safety meeting began. I was soon to learn precisely how Gender equality really works on a Prevailing Wage Scale job site for the US Federal Government.

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We worked alongside a modern crew of 21st century contract labor…multi-ethnic men and women working together in the sweltering, salty Pacific air and hot Hawaiian sun. Such diversity! Progressive worker’s utopia manifest!

All wore safety gear and head to toe covering to protect from sunburn from working long shifts in the sun.

It was hard work, menial and sometimes dangerous. Yet here were the women, working alongside the men, all making the same equally mandated, Davis-Bacon wages. The Equal Pay for Equal work ideal, realized by Federal Government Dictate.

That was the theory anyway.

The practice was a little different.

I watched with bemusement as it became apparent that there were certain, unofficial gender roles assigned to the tasks being done by the work crew. The men did all of the physically strenuous and dangerous work with heavy machinery, pneumatic tools, jackhammers, pick axes, shovels, blow torches and pavement saws. All of the women were essentially doing nothing more than apprentice-level assistance to the tradesman. Holding and coiling hoses, cleaning up debris with vacuums and rags. Touch up painting with small brushes. Pouring water on the saw blade as the man made cuts into the concrete and asphalt; sweeping up concrete dust with a broom, vacuuming up sawdust, priming exposed iron works with a brush, pushing wheelbarrows of material around and running errands with the company van for the Foreman. This is primarily the work I observed these ladies doing for an entire month I’ve been working there. I was a bit shocked (but not really surprised) when I found out that they made the exact same wage as the men doing the truly laborious work.

I guess this is what gender equality means in the industrial construction zone of our brave new world order.

It brought to my mind Orwell’s double-think slogans in 1984,

WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH

These women were mostly friendly, hard working, and fit into the job site with no appearance of interpersonal social problems amongst the crew. I’ve got no complaints with the ladies themselves. There was just too much work and the need for cooperation in doing physical labor for the usual office politics that emerge when men and women work together in close proximity. Things also went smoothly because of the unofficial gender roles for task assignment. The men did the really hard work, the women did the support work and cleanup.

But in my past experiences on any civilian construction job site, all of that light labor would have been done by a young apprentice getting paid $10-$15 an hour as they observed the tradesmen in action and received hands-on training in the process. Eventually, the apprentices would become tradesmen themselves and in turn mentor other young men as their apprentices. Only after years of on the job training would they finally reach a Davis-Bacon Act type pay scale. Hell, that’s precisely how I learned the skills that landed me my current employment opportunity.

But things got even more equal as the major phase of the project began to wind down a month later. After all of the physically demanding and dangerous work had been completed, we pulled up to the job site last week to find it virtually empty. 75% of the contractors had been laid off. All of those laid off were male.

But all the female workers were still on the site working with a few of the men who were not laid off, doing cleanup and last minute detail work for the final inspection punch list. Apparently when it came time to lay off workers, even though some of the men where more skilled, experienced and competent, the company was afraid to lay off the women and skew their quota for EQUAL OPPORTUNITY HIRING.

This is not just conjecturing on my part…but the exact words (off the record, of course) of the Project Manager, when I asked where all the boys had gone and if they were going to start work on a new project soon.

He told me that they only carry a small crew of full-time employees between projects. The men get laid off, and called back when a new job is about to begin. But the women workers were kept on the payroll in between jobs so they could avoid further censure and possible fines by the Federal Government.

This is our Federally Mandated Gender Equality in Action.

Men do the harder, more laborious and dangerous work, women do the easier, safer tasks…and they all have the same pay. When it comes time for layoffs, it’s not based on seniority, experience, or actual value to the company, but rather the gender of the employee so as to avoid running afoul of the gender quota of the Federal Government.

Time to cue up the oxymoron’s of Orwell’s double-think slogans in describing this state of affairs, and now add a fourth one that reflects our new Feminist Equalitarian Paradigm:

WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH
EQUALITY IS FAIR

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