Two proposals that would have increased the cost of the U.S. military's expansion in Guam by $10.2 billion were rejected Thursday as part of a compromise defense bill passed by the House.
One of the proposals would have mandated much higher wages for construction workers involved with transferring 8,000 Marines from Japan to Guam. The other would have put a ceiling on foreign workers on the project.
Military leaders worried about the price tag. Political and business leaders on Guam were concerned about inflationary pressures that would come with dramatic wage increases.
Democratic Rep. Neil Abercrombie, who's running for governor in Hawaii, offered the proposals in a bid to help his state's struggling construction industry. The House adopted them in its version of the bill setting defense priorities over the next few years. But they were excluded from a final compromise worked out by House and Senate negotiators.
Abercrombie's measure would have required the Guam Marine base project to use the same wage rates set for federal construction projects in Hawaii instead of the rates for projects in Guam. For example, electricians would get about $39 an hour at minimum, instead of $14. Bricklayers would get at least $35 an hour instead of nearly $12.
"That was just totally ridiculous," said John Robertson of the Guam Contractor's Association.
Workers will still get the prevailing wage rates set for Guam but a new compromise requires that they be adjusted annually to cover inflation. Wages on federal projects in Guam for painters, for example, haven't changed in seven years, Abercrombie said.
"The prevailing wage will rise to its natural level and they will not be able to rig it any longer," he said.
Guam contractors also will be required to direct job opportunities to U.S. workers first. The Labor Department will post the jobs on Web sites and with jobs banks in the U.S.
Contractors will then have to interview all "qualified and available" workers who apply.
But that's very different from Abercrombie's proposal requiring that 70 percent of the work on the project be done by U.S. workers.
Robertson said any kind of cap was viewed as the wrong approach. Instead, contractors agreed to language ensuring that U.S. workers get first crack at the jobs. "With the present-day economy, that's only fair," Robertson said. "There is a protection for American workers, but we don't think that it's particularly onerous."