The Commander of Wisconsin’s newest American Legion Post firmly rejects the notion that it is a front for forces opposed to prevailing wage reform legislation. But Iraq War combat veteran Michael Burt also says Post 139, established on September 30th, was so named to mirror Operating Engineers Union Local 139. Burt told me in a Tuesday afternoon interview “We’re not ashamed of it. Operating Engineers partnered with camp American Legion to turn a logging trail into a handicap accessible road with veteran apprentices and taught them some usable skills. In the time it took us to build it a camaraderie was created.”
As Media Trackers reported Tuesday Post 139’s website has a petition urging viewers to act to protect veterans job protections:
Did you know that Wisconsin Legislators are planning to remove job protections for our veterans?
Sign our petition demanding that our elected leaders reinstate job protections for Wisconsin Veterans and demanding that our elected leaders make no further changes to wage laws that negatively impact Wisconsin Veterans!
Burt conceded to Media Trackers that the petition is a veiled reference to prevailing wage reform passed in the 2015-2016 legislative session. Prevailing wage laws mandate that taxpayers pay artificially inflated labor costs on public construction projects.
Construction Business Group, which has a history creating administrative hassles for local officials by filing prevailing wage-related complaints, purchased radio ads on Green Bay Packers and Wisconsin Badgers radio broadcast to promote the petition on the website. Burt, when asked, couldn’t recall whose idea the petition and ad campaign were. He said Post 139 agreed with the message of the ads and the petition but he doesn’t recall who submitted them for the post’s consideration. He also couldn’t recall who created the petition at the post’s website or who wrote the copy for it, or who initially approached whom. As for his inability to recall these key details:
“Honestly, I didn’t think we were going to get this much attention. We were trying to voice what we believe. I can’t draw a direct line. I can’t remember who said what, who started this conversation who presented who with what. Those details I just don’t recall. If that leaves a hole somewhere, I apologize for my lack of recollection”.
Lobbyist John Gard, who opposed prevailing wage reform last session, arranged the interview with Burt and sat it on it. He texted Media Trackers Wednesday:
“After the interview yesterday, I did some due diligence about the script (for the ads) you asked about. They worked with a media consultant to develop the ad. Then Post 139 reviewed and voted to approve the final ad at a membership meeting. (For whatever it’s worth, I wanted to get you an answer).
We texted Gard asking to whom he was referring to when he said “they” worked with a media consultant. Gard’s response was: “I didn’t get that.” CBG general counsel Cynthia Buchko previously told us that CBG’s Board of Trustees approved an in-kind donation of advertising time during Badger and Packer games and a modest cash donation to help the Post with startup costs.
Burt said he believes it is fair to single out veterans as being particularly hard hit by prevailing wage reform because of the outsized challenge vets already face in finding good paying jobs compared with the rest of the population. Both Gard and Burt believe there will be efforts in the next legislative session to repeal prevailing wage entirely. And Burt says CBG is not American Legion Post 139’s only supporter:
When it comes to veterans, the price of freedom is very high. Our pitch to the rest of the world is that we raised the bar on freedom. Veterans hold that bar high. Veterans are there to support each other. Post 139 has many donors, we’re not relying on 1 or 2.
Regardless, Burt’s lack of recollection on how Post 139 came to echo CBG’s and Operating Engineers local 139’s message on prevailing wage meant he was unable to provide any real clarity as to the nature of the relationship between the three entities.