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Prevailing wage surveys remain tough sell for contractors

Sean Ryan

Months of debate over whether expanding the reach of prevailing wage would ruin the industry did little to persuade contractors to fill out the state survey.

“Typically we don’t,” said Gregory Reesman Jr., president of Reesman’s Excavating & Grading Inc., Burlington.

“I really haven’t had the chance to give it any consideration (this year).”

Contractors have until Friday to send their wage rates to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development to influence what the prevailing wages will be in the coming year. By July 17, DWD had received nearly 4,000 responses to the 2009 survey, which was slightly behind the final response rate last year.

The state uses wage information from contractors to set prevailing wages for each county. Contractors working on public projects must pay the prevailing wage for the county in which they are working.

Debate flared up in February over which projects should require prevailing wages when DWD ruled the rates apply to projects on which private companies finance and build public infrastructure. The debate — initially between municipalities and the Construction Business Group — spread to the state Capitol when Gov. Jim Doyle’s budget proposed changes to the wage law.

Last month, the state budget was approved with measures lowering the prevailing wage cost thresholds for public projects and requiring the wages on public turnkey projects.

“Those concerned with these updates — basically modernizing the law — should educate themselves on the DWD process and send in their surveys,” said Robb Kahl, executive director of the Construction Business Group.

The group, which supported the prevailing wage rule changes, is financed by contractors and workers covered by the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 139 collective-bargaining agreements.

Reesman, a member of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin board of directors, said he heard from developers who expect the expanded application of prevailing wages will hurt their ability to get projects going. However, he said, the prevailing wage is mostly set based on union wages, and most of the information DWD receives reinforces existing wage rates.

Skip Tenpas, owner of Central Sands Buildings Inc., Plainfield, and chairman of the ABC board of directors, said prevailing wage has been a focal point for the association this year. He said he is not sure if his company sent in the survey.

“One of the reasons is we don’t do a lot of prevailing wage work,” he said.

Kahl said he expects the changes in the state budget to prompt a greater interest in the surveys next year.

The threshold change requiring prevailing wages on public projects worth more than $25,000, rather than the $150,000 previously required, won’t take effect until Jan. 1, he said.

“Contractors aren’t seeing it yet out in the field,” Kahl said.

Gerry Krebsbach, ABC board chairman-elect and president of K-W Electric Inc., Plymouth, said he sends in the surveys every year. K-W sent its survey in June 8. He said every year he goads fellow contractors to do the same.

“It’s like encouraging people to vote,” he said. “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain.”

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