Date – April 2, 2012

Unions … Prevailing Wage Law Could Decide Local Elections

Prevailing wage and the possibility of its repeal in Pennsylvania may prove to be a major election issue for local political candidates this year.  The prevailing wage law was enacted in 1961 and applies to any project of more than $25,000.  The law requires workers on publicly funded construction projects get the going rate for the area and those end up being union rates. However, part of the problem, is that the prevailing wage threshold was never adjusted during the 50 intervening years.

We expect our school districts and local governments to survive with shrinking funds and few remaining options.  Desperate to find ways to stretch the taxpayer dollars more efficiently, local governments are often times faced with deferring construction projects as well as routine maintenance because they exceed the $25,000 prevailing wage threshold, making them too expensive.

State Rep Warren Kampf’s proposed legislation, House Bill 709 – “School Construction Cost Reduction Act” applies only to Pennsylvania school districts unlike other proposals that call for a repeal of the prevailing wage law. HB 709 would only exempt school districts from the state’s prevailing wage requirements.

In the midst of an economic crisis and on the edge of the financial cliff, HB 709 could be seen as a way to save cash-strapped school districts money.  According to Kampf’s legislative website, the Phoenixville School District school board as endorsed his proposed legislation which if approved, would give school districts the option of being exempt from the prevailing wage law.

The argument from the union side is that the proposed changes in prevailing wages will negatively impact union construction workers by reducing wages and suggest it will ultimately affect the communities in which they live. There is also concern that the quality of the construction work will diminish if prevailing wage law were to be repealed.  But how do you balance the state’s funding gaps against prevailing wage laws that may now be too costly?

Should Pennsylvania move in the direction of competitive private wages through reform or elimination of the prevailing wage laws?  Not if the union workers prevail.  Last week I wrote about the carpenters’ union rally in Paoli and was surprised when I was notified that a national union organization, The We Party, picked up the Community Matters story.  The article with photos of the Paoli rally, appear on the front page at side by side with union articles from California, Missouri, Florida and New York State.

According to their website, The We Party,

“… exists to counter and correct the excessive misinformation that is broadcast regarding the rights of the Modern American Worker and the needs of the New American Economy.  Our mission is to attract the American public to the information resources necessary to elect candidates who represent the country’s best interests and to encourage the American people to participate in the achievement of policy initiatives that embolden the middle class and those in pursuit of the American dream.”

When it comes to local school districts, it will be interesting if we see school boards supporting proposed prevailing wage legislation, such as HB 709 but will teachers support their fellow union brothers and sisters in the construction trades?

According to We Party Patriots mission statement, their support will be squarely behind the pro-union political candidates.  The prevailing wage debate may prove to be a deciding factor in local elections in Pennsylvania this year.

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