By TIM ROWDEN
Jefferson City – Now that the Missouri Legislature is in full swing, extremist Republicans are working fast and furious to move their anti-union, anti-worker legislation to the General Assembly.
Late last month, the focus of the House Workforce Development Committee was on bills that would alter the state's Prevailing Wage and Workers' Compensation laws.
The Missouri Legislature last year changed how the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations calculates the prevailing wage by requiring wage surveys to be split between union and non-union wages, then set by whichever group, union or non-union, reports more hours of work, opening the door to lower wages and cut-rate contractors pouring into Missouri from other states.
House Bill 1144 (HB 1144), sponsored by Rep. Bill White (R-Joplin) was heard before the House Workforce Committee on Feb. 18. The measure would prohibit the Missouri Housing Development Commission from requiring a prevailing wage to be paid to a contractor on a project for a housing tax credit if it is in a Governor-declared disaster area.
Joplin, of course, suffered a devastating tornado in 2011 and is still in the process of rebuilding.
Anti-worker advocate Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder (R-Cape Girardeau) was among those who testified in favor of the bill.
EMPLOYEES ‘DON’T NEED’ PREVAILING WAGE
Mike Louis, secretary treasurer of the Missouri AFL-CIO, led the testimony against the bill, arguing that that Joplin needs more money – higher wages – fed into it, not less, to begin recouping its losses from the tornado.
“Contractors need to get over their attitude of ‘My employees don’t need to taste the wages and benefits of a prevailing wage,’ ” Louis said. “Especially at a time when the entire community can benefit from the wages and benefits that come from state and federal tax dollars –– prevailing wage applies to union and non-union employers and employees.”
Former Senator Tim Green, director of political and legislative affairs for IBEW Local 1 and the St. Louis Electrical Connection, noted that if cut-rate out of town contractors are awarded jobs and people are making less money, there will be less money in terms of tax revenue for schools and roads.
“The whole idea of the prevailing wage is to give the local contractor an opportunity to compete,” Green said, adding that labor accounts for only about 25 percent of the average building project. “Material is what costs the majority,” he said.
“You can’t bear the burden of higher costs on labor when it is a minority of the cost of the project.”
Scott Ramshaw, head of Government Relations and Business Development for Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 562, summed up the frustration with the anti-worker imperative that has taken hold of the Republican-controlled legislature in Jefferson City.
“Every time we have a bill before this committee, it’s always about the wage of the worker,” Ramshaw said. “It always comes down to that.”
Also heard before the Workforce Committee on Feb. 18 were threebills dealing with Workers’ Compensation.
• HB 1642 creates the Employee Reclassification Act regarding employees’ classification as independent contractors.
• HB 1609 would modify the definition of “employer” to include “any person or corporation in the construction industry who erects, demolishes, alters, or repairs improvements”
• HB 1663 would change the amount that a compensation or death benefit must be increased or reduced for an employee's personal injury or death if it was caused by certain failures of the employer or employee, reseting the amount for the employer from 15 percent to 25 percent, and resetting the amount for the employee from “at least 25 but not more than 50” percent to a set 25 percent.
UPDATE: The Workforce Committee passed the anti-prevailing wage bill (HB 1144) on to the full House by 7-2 vote Feb. 24 and held the third hearing on right-to-work/freedom to work bills.
“No one can accuse the Workforce Committee of inconsistency – but they are still on the wrong track,” Louis said. “The House Workforce Committee held a third hearing on even more so-called 'right to work' bills, while passing along party lines yet another bill to lower wages in areas reeling from natural disasters. When communities are struggling to recover from tornadoes, floods and other devastating events, there’s a need for highly skilled workers to do the job right the first time and ensure homes for families in crisis are built to last. HB1144 would only reward unscrupulous contractors from out of state who will be long gone before the real impact of cutting corners comes to light.”