Groups representing Wisconsin builders worry the Department of Commerceâ€™s mandatory contractor registration rule is just the start of state efforts to track construction companies.
â€œI understand the state is trying to go after the bad actors,â€ said Brad Boycks, director of government and political affairs for the Wisconsin Builders Association. â€œBut thatâ€™s about 10 percent of the contractors out there. So, meanwhile, the other 90 percent, which is mainly our members, have to jump through another hoop.â€
The Wisconsin Department of Commerce last week enacted a rule requiring contractors to register with the departmentâ€™s Division of Safety and Buildings. The rule applies to those contractors whose work is regulated under any DOC codes affecting public and commercial buildings, one- and two-family dwellings, and public swimming pools.
Zach Brandon, a DOC executive assistant, said the registration creates a statewide registry that enhances communication between contractors and building groups. Also, the registration, he said, will help the DOC, the state Department of Workforce Development and the Department of Revenue work together on issues such as workersâ€™ compensation and worker classification.
Contactors already credentialed by DOC will not have to register again, Brandon said.
â€œThereâ€™s an expectation from the public that weâ€™re tracking contractors out there,â€ he said. â€œAnd if youâ€™re running a legitimate business, we struggle to find any reason why you wouldnâ€™t apply.â€
But Boycks said DWD also has a task force considering rules governing worker classification. He said he does not know if the task forceâ€™s aim will change in light of the new DOC rule.
Hal Bergan, a DWD representative and chairman of the task force, said DOCâ€™s rule was â€œnot the sum totalâ€ of the task forceâ€™s objective.
Mark Reihl, executive director of the Wisconsin State Council of Carpenters and another task force member, said worker misclassification has become a pressing issue in the downturned economy. He said several construction workers on public projects are classified as independent contractors rather than employees, which then renders them ineligible for workersâ€™ compensation or unemployment insurance.
The companies that hire workers as independent contractors, he said, are not required to carry workersâ€™ compensation insurance or to pay unemployment insurance taxes.
The task force goal, Reihl said, is to tighten the reins on contractors circumventing state laws. Although the DOC will help with the centralized database created through mandatory registration, â€œthere are still other things that can be done.â€
But John Mielke, vice president of Associated Builders & Contractors of Wisconsin Inc., said ABC worries about further layers of registration for legitimate companies.
â€œWhen you have multiple registrations,â€ he said, â€œcontractors begin to get confused and then frustrated.â€
Reihl said he doubts any new rules the task force proposes would be complicated. If anything, he said, they would pay off for companies in the long run.
â€œTo put up with a bit more paperwork for something thatâ€™s going to benefit everyone and make things a little more fair,â€ he said, â€œis something I think builders would want.â€
Brandon said the DOCâ€™s new rule is not deterring activity. Already a week into the registration process, 140 contractors have registered.
â€œIf people werenâ€™t interested,â€ he said, â€œyouâ€™d think there wouldnâ€™t be much activity until the last minute.â€
Mielke said builders must now wait to see what the DWD task force produces.
â€œI donâ€™t know how many people expected DOC to come out with this rule right now, and I think there are some people nervous about a lack of coordination,â€ he said. â€œWe donâ€™t want to see rules followed by more of the same rules.â€