Union officials are blaming counties for killing a bill that would have required licenses for crane and heavy equipment operators.
Counties wanted their employees exempted from licensing, said Robb Kahl, executive director of the Construction Business Group, a joint labor-management organization.
Unions, he said, would not agree to that exemption, so county representatives opposed the bill.
“It’s hard to have a new regulation in place geared toward safety when it wouldn’t apply equally across the state,” Kahl said. “To exempt an active player in this kind of work is a difficult thought to stomach.”
Dan Fedderly, executive director of the Wisconsin County Highways Association, said there was a far simpler reason for county opposition to the bill.
“Ultimately we all agree there should be some measurement of safety,” he said. “It’s just the proverbial devil in the details. We want a long, open discussion rather than trying to push something through on the pretense of urgency.”
The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Joe Parisi, D-Madison, would have required the licenses on public works projects that pay prevailing wages.
Some county highway departments bid on those projects, said Terry McGowan, business manager for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 139. But the departments already have advantages over private companies, and an exemption from licensing would have been too much.
“It’s not apples to apples because they’re not subject to costs that we are,” McGowan said. “They don’t have to post bond. They can get their equipment at a 33 percent discount. They don’t pay taxes on equipment.”
In the past few years, the private sector blasted Shawano County for building a private driveway, Chippewa County for taking control of municipal projects without applying prevailing wages and Waupaca County for building some roads for a new subdivision in Caledonia, which is not in Waupaca County.
But Fedderly said the licensing bill has nothing to do with who performs work.
“I hope they’re not attempting to use this as leverage in that debate,” he said. “It was never discussed. Our concern was that it was a last-second effort to get something passed and really written around the private sector.”
The chief problem, Fedderly said, was the experience requirement to be licensed. For crane and heavy equipment licensing, the bill would have required 1,000 hours of experience in five years or 5,000 hours experience throughout a career. It is experience workers with private companies can acquire relatively easily, he said, but it can take many years for county employees.
The bill will not make it to the governor’s desk this session and both sides will continue discussing county departments working on the projects. Kahl said licensing supporters will revisit the issue, but will not agree to exempt county employees.
“If they want to play contractors, they’re going to start having to play by the same rules as the private sector,” he said. “If they don’t, eventually they’ll run the private sector out of business.”