By CARL GREEN
Belleville, IL – Illinois workers won a victory in court last month requiring the Governor Bruce Rauner administration to update and post prevailing wage rates for public construction projects.
Rauner has stalled the update for two years, even though state law requires that the Department of Labor update the rates by county and post them every year on July 15.
Prevailing wage laws are designed to ensure that workers are paid fairly and equally and that work is performed efficiently. The rates determined by the state are to be paid by counties, the state, school boards, cities and townships with construction projects.
The rates are based on negotiated wages and benefits in each county as reported by contractors.
“The law also helps local union workers because all workers must be paid the same rate and contractors won’t bring in out-of-state workers who are paid less for their work,” said Mike Matejka, governmental affairs director of the Great Plains Laborers District Council, in a press release about the decision.
In 2016, Rauner’s Department of Labor declined to post updated rates by the July 15 deadline, instead leaving the 2015 rates in place. It also refused to accept rate update reports from union contractors.
So the Midwest Region LIUNA filed suit in Chicago, and on May 19 won a court order that the department post the updated rates. Those rates were posted last week.
The question of 2017 rates remains unanswered, but the Laborers again are taking it to court. Three of their district councils – Great Plains, Southern & Central Illinois and Southwestern Illinois – filed a lawsuit in St. Clair County Circuit Court to require that 2017 rates be posted on July 15 as scheduled, and the judge said he would issue the injunction.
A GREAT VICTORY
“This is a great victory,” Laborers International Vice President John Penn said. “Upholding prevailing wage is the foundation for decent wages, benefits and training for Illinois’ workers.
“The Rauner Administration tried to stall this process and undercut workers’ livelihoods and the fair bidding system for contractors. Hopefully, these two court rulings will again return Illinois workers to their full wages on public projects,” Penn said.
The Laborers’ lawsuit made these specific accusations about Rauner’s Department of Labor:
• The department used a new computer system as an excuse to refuse to accept rate reports from union contractors using the form posted on the department’s own website.
• The department wanted to switch from the established state classification system to a federal system that would blur craft lines and possibly reduce rates, and that a department official advocated such a switch as a way to circumvent state law in a 2007 paper.
• The department accepted rates for private work from members of the non-union Associated Builders & Contractors, even though the prevailing rates are supposed to come from public contracts.
Both chambers of the Illinois Legislature voted unanimously for a bill to change the date when the Department of Labor posts each year’s new rates from July 15 to Aug. 15. The bill was sent to Rauner.
A second bill did not pass so easily. Senate Bill 1904, sponsored by gubernatorial candidate Dan Biss in the Senate and Representative Jay Hoffman in the House, was amended to require that prevailing wages be no lower than the rates set in collective bargaining agreements between unions and employer associations. If no such agreements existed, the rates from the “nearest and most similar neighboring locality” would be used. The bill would also require the Department of Labor to publish prevailing wage schedules on its website.
Democratic votes pushed the bill through in the House, 64-45, but a final vote had not been taken in the Senate.