A bill that would repeal every prevailing wage law change enacted in last year’s state budget faces long odds in the Democrat-controlled Legislature.
State Rep. Mary Williams, R-Medford, has drafted a bill that would reinstate a threshold of $234,000 as the point at which prevailing wages must be paid on public projects. The threshold approved in the state budget is $25,000.
Her bill would eliminate monthly prevailing wage reporting requirements for contractors and the penalties for noncompliance. It also would eliminate the requirement that contractors pay prevailing wages on private projects that use public money.
The bill is expected to be introduced next week.
“I think what’s happened is that there’s been a lot of red tape put up,” Williams said Thursday. “Some of the stuff that was put into the budget is pretty labor intensive, and it’s going to be hard on some of the smaller contractors in this state.”
But Robb Kahl, executive director of Construction Business Group, a joint labor-management organization, defended the law changes.
“If she and her friends at (Associated Builders & Contractors of Wisconsin Inc.) want to take the little time that’s left in this session working on this kind of thing, OK,” he said. “I’d be more interested in doing something that works.”
Minnesota has a prevailing wage threshold of $25,000, Kahl said, while Michigan and Illinois have thresholds of $1. Wisconsin, he said, is not out of line in redefining its standards.
But the new law is pinching contractors that already had to prove they were paying prevailing wages on public works projects, said Randy Balko, president of Wisconsin Rapids-based Eagle Construction Co. Inc.
“We always had to report to the owners anyway,” he said. “Now we have to report to (the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development), and it’s just added labor. How is anybody going to benefit from this?
“It’s not the time to be putting a heavy load on contractors in this state.”
Still, with a Democrat-controlled Legislature, chances are slim Williams will get enough support to repeal a law those Democrats passed last year, Kahl said.
“Last time I checked, the legislative makeup hasn’t changed,” he said. “Look, I understand that change is difficult and new processes take time to adjust to. These weren’t small tweaks; they were dramatic changes.
“But I think in six months’ time, people will be accustomed to it.”
Williams said the 20 co-sponsors she has gathered so far are Republicans.
Even if the bill fails, it brings public attention to the industry’s difficulty adapting to the law, said John Mielke, vice president of ABC of Wisconsin Inc.
“This gives the people defending the law a chance to put their money where their mouth is,” he said. “I think it’s showing that the industry is either confused or angry about the changes, and this allows the opportunity to examine whether changes were made too hastily.”
State Rep. Christine Sinicki, D-Milwaukee, said she has not heard a single report of trouble with the new law. Sinicki is chairwoman of the Assembly Committee on Labor and said she assumes the bill, when introduced, will be referred to her committee.
“I said at the beginning of the session that I would hold a public hearing on every bill that comes to the committee, and I intend to honor that,” she said. “I will hold a hearing on this bill. “Whether it passes out of committee is another question.”
If Democrats don’t get behind the bill, Williams said, it’s their burden to bear.
“If they decide not to pass it,” she said, “then they can explain why they don’t want to help workers in this state.”