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Contractors complain about wage reporting costs

By Paul Snyder

Complying with the state’s new prevailing-wage reporting law is coming at heavy costs to contractors throughout Wisconsin.

Under the state’s new prevailing-wage law, contractors are required to file monthly reports that detail prevailing-wage payments on any public works project valued at $25,000 or more. The spreadsheet the state Department of Workforce Development wants contractors to complete was finalized in January.

Gregory Reesman Jr., president of Burlington-based Reesman’s Excavating & Grading Inc., said his company will need to update its software before it can satisfy the state’s requirements. In addition to completing the programming, he said, the company probably will have to hire someone to process all the payroll reports at a time when most companies are cutting back hours and employees.

“It’s going to cost us tens of thousands of dollars,” he said.

Janesville-based Carroll Electric will have its reports in by the state’s Feb. 7 due date, but the hours spent trying to understand and finish the reports are estimated to have cost the company about $1,000, said branch supervisor Frank Synowski.

And in the Fennimore office of H and N Plumbing & Heating Inc., payroll administrator Mandy Henkel said she has spent six hours this week trying to understand the state’s DWD reporting spreadsheet. Those six hours, she said, mean she has put off other work, and as of Thursday, she had not finished the report. The time she has lost this week alone, Henkel said, will probably cost the company more than $100.

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“I’m feeling the pressure,” she said. “You want to comply with the law, but you have to weave around the DWD Web site to get what you’re looking for. Even when you get there, there’s still no method of questioning what they’re looking for. There’s no phone number to call.

“I sent an e-mail and got an automated response that someone would get back to me within three business days.”

Henkel sent the e-mail Wednesday and, as of Thursday, still was waiting for a response.

Despite a court order issued Thursday that prevents the state from penalizing or fining companies while the law is under Dane County Circuit Court review, DWD still wants contractors to comply with reporting and meet the Feb. 7 deadline for the first report. Dane County Circuit Court Judge John Markson is expected to make his ruling April 19.

DWD spokesman Dick Jones said the department is working with contractors as best it can to guide them through a 50-field spreadsheet made available last month.

That’s little consolation to contractors, Synowski said.

“This whole thing is a debacle,” he said. “It’s a total disaster. DWD didn’t do their due diligence.”

Synowski said the DWD last year failed to publicize the impending changes and instead left it to contractors to dig through the almost 700-page state budget to prepare.

Even though the state budget carrying the prevailing-wage law changes was signed by Gov. Jim Doyle in June, Henkel said she did not even know about the changes until late December.

“And now I’m struggling with this at this time of the year,” she said, “when I also have to be working on year-end and quarterly reports.”

Jones did not comment on the contractors’ timing complaints and instead pointed to a prepared statement that says the department anticipated a period of adjustment and will continue to help struggling contractors.

DWD Secretary Roberta Gassman is not speaking to reporters about the situation, and neither is DWD Prevailing-Wage Section Chief Julie Eckenwalder.

The circuit court review is the result of a request for an injunction filed last week by the Associated Builders & Contractors of Wisconsin Inc. The organization argues the 50 fields of information required by DWD go too far beyond the state budget’s four reporting requirements: contractor name, the type of work performed by every employee on a prevailing-wage project, an accurate record of all hours worked and the wages paid for that work.

One of the ironies of the reporting, said ABC Vice President John Mielke, is that the 50 fields still will not get the department an accurate read on whether prevailing-wage law is being followed. Calculating the prevailing-wage rate against hours worked and wages paid, he said, is not enough.

“You might be working on a prevailing-wage job and private job in the same week,” he said. “You might be an apprentice receiving more than the prevailing-wage rate. There are different ways to legally calculate overtime. There are classification issues — what if you’re listed as a carpenter, but the work you’re doing on a job isn’t carpentry?

“This form isn’t sufficient.”

It’s also running up construction company costs at an inopportune time, Reesman said.

“Nobody can afford these extra costs,” he said. “They had seven months to figure this out. Now, basically, contractors have five days to reprogram their system, figure out the new spreadsheets, run tests and file. The administrative burden is so extensive.”

One comment

  1. How about the fact that Union Companies are not required to report on line the same prevailing wage reports.
    What does this current administration think? That union contractors are always paying their employees the correct amount and the correct benifit packages?
    Does the arrogance of this administration in their absolute snubbing of the private contractor, especially the “open merit shop” contractor, not stink of illegal activity!
    Why are we putting up with this, lets get the revolution started right now.
    We want our city, state and country back from the people that we thought were going to look out for our best interests.

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