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Unions Gather at Capitol to Fight Prevailing Wage

SteveWhite.JPG
Ashton Marra
/
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

“Slow this down. Let’s find some compromise.”

That was the message the director of the Affiliated Construction Trades of West Virginia, Steve White, delivered during a gathering of union officials and members at the state Culture Center Wednesday.

White, his union and other members of the AFL-CIO gathered to speak out against a bill that’s fast tracked through the West Virginia Senate. Senate Bill 261 would repeal the state’s prevailing wage, the hourly, overtime and benefit rates contractors agree to pay their employees when bidding on publicly funded projects.

The bill was introduced in the Senate last week and single referenced to the Committee on Government Organization, which passed a committee substitute Tuesday changing the bill from a total, immediate repeal to expiring the wage rate on April 1, 2015.

“We all know that the federal government has really picked the winners and losers when it comes to our coal industry and the same thing happens with prevailing wage,” Sen. Craig Blair, the bill’s sponsor and chair of the Government Organization Committee, said Wednesday.

“It’s the state government actually picking out the winners and losers.”

Blair maintained repeal would allow government money to be spent more wisely, resulting in savings for West Virginia taxpayers, but White said there’s no evidence to support Blair’s position.

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Credit Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting
Members of the AFL-CIO and affiliated unions gathered in the Great Hall of the state Culture Center.

In his research, White said he found states that have repealed the requirement have seen no costs savings on public projects and lower overall wages for construction and trade workers.

Some Democratic lawmakers have stood with union leaders to oppose the change, including Sen. Ron Miller who called it a chipping away at workers’ rights during the committee meeting Tuesday.

“Over the past few years, we’ve kind of ignored the workers in many ways. This particular piece of legislation doesn’t just chip, it takes a crow bar and a sledge hammer to workers’ rights,” he said Wednesday.

Both Miller and White, however, maintain there is room for compromise in the bill. White would like to see that come in a change to the calculation of prevailing wage rates and a minimum cap on projects.

Current wage rates are set through a survey the state sends to all state contractors asking about their going rates. White said that could be changed to a process that includes the gathering of more data.

White also said unions would agree to a $250,000 minimum project requirement for new construction projects and a $100,000 for renovations. Once those limits are reached, White said, the prevailing wage would kick in for construction and trade workers.

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Credit Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting
Sen. John Unger, a Democrat from Berkeley County, was one of many lawmakers who attended the rally.

  “We see that we could find common ground, but we’re not having an opportunity to talk about common ground. Instead, bills are being pushed out on party line and we don’t want to be caught between the parties, we just want to have our contractors and workers have a fair deal,” White said.

Senate Bill 261 is scheduled to be reported back to the full Senate Wednesday, leaving it to be voted on early next week.

Blair expects members on both sides of the aisle to attempt to amend the bill on the floor, and expects some of those amendments to be approved, but said leadership does not intend to slow the bill any further.

“We know that the clock is our enemy. We’ve got to make sure we can get this legislation through our chamber, through the other chamber [and] to the governor’s office,” he said.

“The governor always has the potential to veto it and then we have the potential to override that veto.”

Blair said his party does not want to lose a crucial piece of legislation because they couldn’t beat the clock.


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