With show of force, House committee votes down Senate bill repealing prevailing wage
02/04/2016 02:48 PM
FRANKFORT – A state House committee killed one of the state Senate’s priority pieces of legislation with a show of force from union members.
Senate Bill 9, sponsored by Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder, which would exempt public school and university construction from Kentucky’s prevailing wage law, which generally sets higher wage rates for public works projects, was not passed by the House Standing Committee on Labor and Industry on Thursday.
SB 9 failed with a 14-6 vote which went along party lines with exception of Rep. Jim Stewart, R-Flat Lick, who was the lone Republican to vote against the legislation.
Approximately, 500 labor union members crowded into the meeting room and overflowed out in the hallways of the Capitol Annex to show solidarity against the legislation.
Schroder said that the bill was about saving the school districts and universities money on construction projects that they could then use in the classroom or for other purposes.
From 1982 to 1996, Kentucky had the prevailing wage exemption in place for public educational institutions.
“Recent LRC legislative study found that prevailing wage requirements increased labor costs for sample school projects by 51 percent relative to what the labor costs would have been if workers were paid the same rate on a private construction project,” Schroder said.
Charles McCoy, former state director, Kentucky State Building and Construction Trades Council, AFL-CIO, testified in opposition of the bill saying that prevailing wage creates stability in the construction industry by providing high skilled labor as well as the development of apprenticeship programs to train younger workers who are just entering the workforce.
“Where prevailing wage laws are applied, contractors compete for public works projects based on having the most productive, the best equipped, and the best managed workforce, not the cheapest most exploitable workforce,” McCoy said.
Schroder disagreed with the assessment that repealing prevailing wage will lead to less than quality construction on school projects.
“We still have things in place, building inspectors, we still have in place those qualities that they’re going to come into those buildings and make sure that they’ve met the standard that’s necessary,” Schroder said.
Rep. Jeff Greer, D-Brandenburg, told Schroder that he felt that he was trying to save schools money on the backs of Kentucky’s construction workers. The statement led to a testy exchange between Greer and Schroder over why the legislation didn’t consider the salaries of other professionals associated with construction projects such as engineers, accountants, architects and attorneys.
Mark Isaacs, a construction worker from Nicholasville who attended the meeting, feels that repealing prevailing wage in any way would hurt his industry.
“You’d we looking at the minimum wage and whoever can get the most cheapest labor to get the product done,” Isaacs said. “It would be a battle to see who could find the cheapest labor.”
Schroder says that he will bring the bill back in future sessions.
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