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Tradesmen, vets weigh in on elimination of prevailing-wage laws

Construction workers left their hardhats at home on Monday to testify in front of a group of state lawmakers on a bill that would eliminate Wisconsin’s prevailing-wage laws.

Doug Volland was among those who took the day off from work to testify at the six-hour Labor Committee hearing on Senate Bill 216. The carpenter from Wauwatosa warned lawmakers about repealing the prevailing-wage requirements for state projects.

“It hurts working people and the middle class,” he said. “It’s a race to the bottom.”

Volland was one of several supporters of keeping those requirements. They contended that prevailing-wage laws are an essential safeguard because governments are required to award contracts to the lowest bidder. Without those laws, firms would have no incentive to attract the most experienced and trained workers, supporters contend.

Some supporters also argue veterans would be hit particularly hard should prevailing wages go away. A number of veterans testified at Monday’s hearing, including Leroy Miller, a former airborne ranger who served multiple tours in Afghanistan and started working in construction with training from the Operating Engineers Local 139.

Opponents of the prevailing-wage laws, meanwhile, countered that the law artificially inflates the cost of public-works projects and stifles competition.

However, John Schulze, director of Legal and Government Affairs for the Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin, which represents 900 construction firms in the state, most of them non-union, said that prevailing wages stifle local firms from competing for work.

“Prevailing wage laws are unnecessarily difficult to comply with, especially for local, small businesses, like many ABC of Wisconsin members,” he said. “These are small businesses who sponsor the little league team, pay taxes and do great work, but may not have the compliance back office to deal with the over-regulation of the average prevailing wage job.”

Dan Bukiewicz, president of the Milwaukee Building and Construction Trades Council, took issue with that characterization.

“You can compete,” he said during the hearing. “All you have to do is pay the Wisconsin-area rate, whether you’re union or not. We’re just asking that you support Wisconsin workers and communities by paying a fair wage.”

If approved by the full Legislature and signed by Gov. Scott Walker, the bill would end prevailing-wage requirements for state-commissioned building projects.

Walker’s budget had a similar proposal that was stripped out along with other policy items earlier this month, prompting state Sen. Leah Vukmir and state Rep. Rob Hutton to introduce a standalone bill.

The change would come in addition to the elimination of prevailing-wage requirements for local projects the Legislature passed in 2015.

About Erika Strebel

Erika Strebel is the law beat reporter for The Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 414-225-1825.

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