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Prevailing wage bill gets chilly reception

By Paul Snyder

Political resistance and timing could spoil the construction industry’s chance to speak out on a bill that would repeal the state’s new prevailing wage law.

“If we’re just looking at repealing all the work we did last year to get this into the budget, I don’t know that I’m going to hold a hearing,” said state Rep. Barbara Toles, D-Milwaukee. “I’m open to being fair, but time is going to run out.”

Mary Williams (left) and Barbara Toles (Photos courtesy of the Wisconsin State Legislature)

Mary Williams (left) and Barbara Toles are on opposite ends of the prevailing wage argument that is struggling to get a hearing. (Photos courtesy of the Wisconsin State Legislature)

The Assembly speaker’s office Thursday referred the prevailing wage bill — from the office of state Rep. Mary Williams, R-Medford — to Toles’ Assembly Committee on Workforce Development.

Williams’ bill eliminates every prevailing wage law change in the 2009-11 state budget. The changes in the budget included lowering the threshold at which prevailing wages must be paid on public projects from $234,000 to $25,000, establishing monthly prevailing wage reporting requirements for contractors and requiring contractors pay prevailing wages on private projects that use public money.

Prevailing wages are based on annual contractor surveys that show how much workers are paid on private projects. The state uses the results to set a prevailing wage in each county for a particular type of job on public projects.

Williams said she was surprised by Toles’ lack of interest in a hearing.

“I thought she would maybe want to hear what some people in the industry have to say,” Williams said. “We’re going to have more work to do to try to get a hearing because I have a lot of people telling me they’re not able to get jobs because of the new requirements.”

The changes took effect Jan. 1, but the reporting requirements were suspended after the Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin Inc. in January filed a request for an injunction in Dane County Circuit Court.

With companies struggling to adapt to the changes, ABC Vice President John Mielke said, a legislative hearing would give both sides a chance to express their opinions, an opportunity not granted during the budget process.

“I don’t think they got full consideration during the budget hearing, when you have a zillion items to talk about,” he said. “The inherent value of a public hearing is that you get the chance to give people who maybe aren’t supporting the bill the chance to hear what the effects are.”

Williams, who drafted the bill in February, said she expected it to go to the Assembly Committee on Labor. That committee’s chairwoman, state Rep. Christine Sinicki, D-Milwaukee, said she would hold a public hearing on the bill.

“Maybe that’s why they sent it to another committee,” Williams said. “I don’t know.”

The Assembly Committee on Labor has held 10 public hearings since the session began. The Assembly Committee on Workforce Development has held four, and Toles said her committee might hold only one more hearing before the session ends.

Toles said she has not yet read Williams’ bill and is unaware of how the new law has affected the construction industry.

“I have not been told of anyone having problems with the changes,” she said.

Even if the bill does not make it to the Assembly or Senate floors for a vote, Williams said, a hearing would be a small victory because lawmakers could hear about the difficulties contractors and municipalities are having with the changes.

“We tried to get the changes out of the budget,” she said. “And if nothing happens this session, we’ll absolutely try again in the next session.”

2 comments

  1. I have no issue with prevailing wage, the issue I have is how they went about it. It was include as part of the budget process, that’s not right. It should have been debated as a policy issue.

  2. I really can’t understand why anyone would have a problem with these new laws. Prevailing wages have been in effct for some time. The problem is they really have never had any teeth. Enforcing and policing these job shave always been on the shoulders of labor. Unions fight every day for workers rights to fair wages and benefits. Union contractors pay their employees good wages and benefits the (previling wage) which the union sets. Non union contrctors who are fighting this line their own pockets by not conforming and sometimes even cheat their employees by making deals or even worse give backs. With the new laws in place the non union contractors have more transparency. By paying a liveable wage and putting more money into workers hands we can put more money into the economy.

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