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Rollback of Midwestern prevailing wages continues in Missouri, Michigan

Missouri became the latest Midwestern state last week to take steps toward overhauling its prevailing-wage laws.

Missouri’s Legislature approved a bill that would make a slew of changes to how the state calculates prevailing wages. If enacted into law, the proposal would put Missouri among a small group of Midwestern states that have made big changes to their prevailing-wage requirements in recent years.

Some states, including Wisconsin and Indiana, have gone so far as to get rid of the pay requirements altogether. Wisconsin’s elimination of its own prevailing-wage laws came in two stages. Lawmakers voted in 2015 to get rid of the requirements for local projects but waited until last year to also eliminate them for state projects.

Missouri is not the only Midwestern state now looking to overhaul its prevailing-wage laws. In Michigan, the Michigan Supreme Court halted the certification on Tuesday of a ballot initiative that would have repealed the state’s prevailing-wage law. The stay will give the Michigan justices time to consider whether to hear an appeal looking at whether the state’s election bureau should be prevented from certifying the petition because some of its circulators might have written down incorrect addresses.

If the ballot iniative is eventually certified, Michigan’s GOP-led Legislature will have 40 days to pass it — bypassing Republican Gov. Rick Snyder — or the bill will go to a statewide vote in November.

In general, prevailing wages are meant to ensure that what governments, schools and other public entities pay for construction work is more or less in line with what’s paid on private projects. In most states, prevailing-wage rates are set by looking at the specific type of work that’s being done and at a project’s location.

Proponents say prevailing wages inflate project costs, which are eventually passed on to taxpayers. Opponents argue that rolling back the requirements reduces workers’ pay.

The proposal moving forward in the Missouri bill would not affect projects worth less than $75,000.

Changes to prevailing-wage laws are not the only policies opposed by unions that are making headway in the Midwest, long a labor stronghold. Also in Missouri this week, lawmakers moved up a vote on right-to-work legislation.

So-called right-to-work laws generally ban contract clauses that make paying union fees a condition of employment at certain companies. Wisconsin became a right-to-work state in 2015.

In Missouri, the state Legislature voted on Thursday to move up a previously scheduled public vote on whether to ban mandatory union fees from November to Aug. 7. Missouri Republicans passed a right-to-work law last year but it never took effect because unions managed to gather enough signatures to force the question onto the ballot.

In Missouri, proponents say right to work would help businesses plan for the future. Opponents argue it would overrule the wishes of the voters who signed the petitions.

– Dan Shaw of The Daily Reporter contributed to this article

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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