Wisconsin lawmakers’ move to let the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin determine labor standards on energy projects is drawing heavy criticism from construction industry representatives.
“They’re overstepping their bounds,” said Frank Synowski, branch manager for Beloit-based Carroll Electric Inc. “The PSC deals with energy. It really doesn’t get into labor issues.”
But according to the 150-page amendment (PDF) to the Clean Energy Jobs Act, the PSC would be involved in labor issues if the amended bill becomes law. The bill is scheduled go to an executive session Thursday morning.
If it passes, it could then be scheduled for a floor vote. The legislative session is scheduled to end April 22.
The amendment directs the PSC to set standards for minimum wages, health care benefits and apprenticeship and training requirements for workers on energy efficiency projects for utility-administered programs.
That means state-mandated labor standards now could go beyond public projects and into private work financed by a utility’s ratepayers, said John Mielke, vice president of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin Inc.
ABC originally opposed the Clean Energy Jobs Act, which proposes energy policy changes for utilities and development, but Mielke said the amendment raises new concerns.
“Having the PSC make these rules puts them in territory they’re not familiar with and it leaves everything up to a future rule,” Mielke said.
Normally, Mielke said, the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development creates labor standards for the state.
The PSC is prepared to do the work and would consult with DWD and the Wisconsin Department of Administration during rule-making, according to PSC spokeswoman Teresa Weidemann-Smith.
Different labor unions, including the AFL-CIO, approached the bill sponsors about creating standards for energy efficiency projects, said John Anderson, spokesman for bill co-sponsor Sen. Mark Miller, D-Monona.
The amendment, he said, is the result of those discussions.
Phil Neuenfeldt, secretary treasurer for the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, did not return calls for comment before deadline.
Dan Ebert, senior vice president of Sun Prairie-based WPPI Energy and former PSC chairman, said it’s too early to be concerned about the amendment. Even though the bill requires the PSC to set some labor standards, he said there are no specific requirements in the bill.
“So they’ll go through a rule-making process, much like they’re doing with the wind siting rules, and I would encourage them to make flexible guidelines that take the size and type of utility into account,” he said. “I expect all stakeholders, including utilities and labor folks, to be involved.”
Ebert said he did not know if the PSC has ever worked on labor standards.
“They have expertise over the utility world,” Ebert said of the PSC. “I think the commission will be able to do this.”
But that doesn’t mean the PSC should, Synowski said. Carroll Electric has helped install solar panels for private projects in Watertown, Jefferson and Oconomowoc. If those owners decided to use utility programs to help cover costs, he said, the company in the future could be subject to state-mandated payments and benefits.
“I think the system we have now is fine,” he said.