The Charleston Gazette
Prevailing wage may prevail after all, as state senators appear close to crafting a compromise that would modify, but not repeal, the state law that sets wage rates for construction workers on many publicly financed construction projects. “We think we have the elements of a deal,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, said Wednesday, after consideration of the bill (SB361) was delayed on the Senate floor for a third straight day. As drafted, the bill would repeal the law that dates back to the Great Depression and sets essentially union-scale wages for construction workers on state and locally funded public works projects. Carmichael admitted Wednesday he was one of several Senate Republicans who came into the session adamant about an outright repeal of the law. “I was a free-market guy from the beginning on this,” he said. However, senators heeded concerns from representatives of construction workers, who said a wage rollback could hurt the state’s economy, and from building contractors, who said an outright repeal could allow out-of-state contractors using migrant workers to underbid for state contracts. “Having heard all sides of the issue, we wanted to strike a proper balance,” Carmichael said. Senate leadership opposes the current system for setting prevailing wage rates, which Carmichael has called archaic and subject to manipulation by interest groups, while labor representatives balked at the proposal of instead using federal Bureau of Labor Statistics rates. Those rates, they said, are artificially low since they include wages for workers on residential building projects. He said the compromise would have Workforce West Virginia develop an unbiased county-by-county list of average wages for the construction trades, relying on research jointly conducted by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at West Virginia University and the Center for Business and Economic Research at Marshall. Steve White, with the Affiliated Construction Trades Foundation, said in principle the compromise sounds workable, but added, “We’re waiting to see the language.” Carmichael said the compromise will also call for a threshold, most likely at $500,000, before prevailing wages would be required on publicly funded construction projects. Carmichael, meanwhile, said he takes offense at claims the bill is anti-union. “There’s nothing anti-labor in this,” he said. “It’s a fairness issue. Ten guys making $10 an hour shouldn’t subsidize a guy making $40 an hour.” The bill will be on third reading with right to amend Thursday. Reach Phil Kabler at email@example.com, 304-348-1220, or follow @PhilKabler on Twitter.
The Charleston Gazette