By TIM ROWDEN
Jefferson City – No fewer than 16 bills have been filed by Republicans in the Missouri Legislature this session seeking to curtail or eliminate the state’s Prevailing Wage laws. Four of those bills are currently under consideration by a state Senate committee. A fifth has yet to be heard and 11 are pending in the House.
Missouri’s prevailing wages on public works projects are set on a county-by-county basis based on voluntary wage surveys submitted by contractors working in each county. Where unions are strong, the Prevailing Wage usually reflects the union wage, benefits and working conditions negotiated in union contracts.
All workers with in the same classification receive the same rate of total compensation for work performed. This keeps the workers from taking the brunt of a cut in the bidding process between employers.
State Sen. Dan Brown (R-Rolla) is sponsoring a bill that would eliminate prevailing wage. Sen. Denny Hoskins (R-Warrensburg) is sponsoring a nearly identical bill. Two other bills, sponsored by Sen. Dave Schatz (R-Sullivan) and Sen. David Sater (R-Cassville) would limit the prevailing wage rate and scale back its use.
Testimony regarding the four bills was heard in recent weeks before the Senate’s General Laws Committee.
The fifth and less destructive bill, sponsored by Senator Gary Romine (R-Farmington), would limit the Prevailing Wage to public works projects valued at more than $25,000, and would bar local governments from dividing a project into multiple contracts just to shrink a project’s cost below $25,000. That bill was scheduled to be heard Wednesday, Jan. 31, after Labor Tribune press time.
ENSURES A TRAINED, SKILLED WORKFORCE
Brown, using a familiar argument, said the prevailing wage is too high for many rural towns and counties that need to build new facilities or maintain existing ones. But he ignored how Prevailing Wage rates are set, and the impact eliminating them would have on local workers.
Prevailing wage establishes a base pay contractors on public works jobs must pay their workers and ensures fair competition by requiring contractors to bid on the skill, expertise and productivity of their workers rather than who pays the lowest wages.
The result, said Mike Louis, president of the Missouri AFL-CIO, is a better trained and more highly skilled workforce, thanks to the extensive and ongoing training workers receive through their union.
“A lot of people contribute to training facilities, whether it’s the pipefitter’s training facility, the painters’ training facility, whether it’s Kansas City, St. Louis or Springfield, and the amount of money paid makes a difference in how much money there is to go to those facilities,” Louis said. “Missouri has always been very proud that we can send our workers anywhere in this country, and they’re well-trained, they know what they’re doing, and they don’t need to be held by the hand.”
“Missouri construction workers can go and work anywhere in the country and be among the most skilled craft workers in the world,” said Sen. Jake Hummel (D-St. Louis), secretary-treasurer of the Missouri AFL-CIO and a member of IBEW Local 1. “Our training and expertise are second to none.
“Destroying the state prevailing wage will begin to erode our ability to continue to self-fund our apprenticeship programs. In most cases, union workers and contractors pay for these programs. When you artificially drive down wages, we begin to drive down the funding needed to continue our world class training.”
PROTECTS WORKERS WITHOUT INCREASING COSTS
Requiring Prevailing Wage protects construction workers from being undercut by low-wage, often out-of-state contractors seeking large government construction contracts, whose presence would take away jobs and erode working conditions for local residents.
Opponents of Prevailing Wage regularly argue that requiring a base rate of pay increases construction costs, despite all evidence to the contrary.
According to a recent cost-benefit analysis of New York’s Prevailing Wage prepared by the non-partisan Economic Policy Institute, “While prevailing wage laws do increase hourly wages, they attract a highly skilled and productive workforce,” thus increasing efficiency, “so overall construction costs typically do not go up.”