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Contractor confusion prevails for wage reporting

By Paul Snyder

The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development’s stated goal of helping the industry navigate prevailing wage reporting does little for a payroll administrator in Fennimore who still is waiting for help.

On Feb. 3, with the Feb. 7 reporting deadline approaching, Mandy Henkel of H & N Plumbing and Heating Inc. sent an e-mail request for help to DWD. She said she received an automated response telling her someone would respond within three business days.

As of Wednesday morning, five business days after her e-mail, Henkel had not received the promised response. She did, however, submit the company’s prevailing wage reports by the deadline.

“But I don’t know if it was accurate,” Henkel said, “because no one got back to me to answer the questions I had.”

The state’s prevailing wage law changed Jan. 1 and now requires contractors file monthly reports on prevailing-wage payments on any public works project valued at $25,000 or more.

For now, the state is not penalizing contractors that do not submit reports. The Associated Builders & Contractors of Wisconsin Inc. filed an injunction request that enforcement be suspended.

The suspension of enforcement will continue while Dane County Circuit Court Judge John Markson reviews the case. Markson’s decision is expected April 19.

Still, DWD is encouraging contractors to file their monthly reports, and agency representatives insist they will help contractors struggling with the 50-field reporting spreadsheet.

“We’ve been receiving a number of inquiries by phone and by e-mail,” said Jennifer Ortiz, administrator for DWD’s Equal Rights Division. “I know we’re getting phone inquiries on a daily basis, and our goal is to respond the same day if possible.”

According to an e-mail attributed to DWD spokesman John Dipko, the department received 250 calls from contractors from Feb. 1 through Feb. 9 and approximately 39 e-mails from contractors between Jan. 26 and Feb. 9.

As of the end of the day Tuesday, 163 contractors had submitted prevailing wage reports, Ortiz said. She said she does not know how many reports the department should expect if the enforcement prohibition is lifted.

She said she also does not know if the department has enough staff members to answer all of the industry’s questions. The department has information technology staff members to answer technical questions about the online forms, Ortiz said, and the DWD’s prevailing wage section has three officers and one supervisor fielding most of the questions.

DWD cannot hire people to help the prevailing wage section officers, Ortiz said, but she is considering using staff members in her division to help. She would not say how many people she would move.

“We’re still looking at the numbers,” she said. “We need to determine how many people are able to respond to calls, and to say how many would be needed is speculative. I don’t want to go there at this time.”

DWD representatives will go to seminars held by companies and associations in March and April to be on hand while people learn how to complete the prevailing wage report.

It’s nice the department is being proactive about education, said ABC Vice President John Mielke, but the effort is coming too late.

“The thing I’ve heard from both members and nonmembers,” he said, “is that if we hadn’t put out the notice last week that the reporting was suspended, they might not have even known they had to report in the first place.”

Dipko provided a letter DWD drafted in December about the looming law change, and he said it was sent to nine builders exchanges.

Ortiz would not say if the department has done enough to inform contractors about changes to the law up to this point.

“All I can say,” she said, “is that we’re continuing to provide education to those that need assistance, and we’ll be doing it for as long as it takes.”

Henkel, meanwhile, said she will continue to submit reports every month because she does not want to find out in April she has to go back and prepare reports for February and March. She said she also wants to hear back from DWD so she knows if she needs to correct any mistakes.

“I’m still waiting,” she said. “I want to know if I’m doing it right.”

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