Missouri House proposes repeal of the state’s prevailing wage law

The Missouri House has proposed repealing the state’s prevailing wage law.  Backers say the bill will allow more public works projects to move forward.  Opponents say it will lower wages and drive more people onto public assistance programs.

Representative Jeffery Justus (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Missouri’s prevailing wage law sets a minimum salary that must be paid to individuals working on public projects, such as the construction or repair of bridges, school buildings, and fire stations.  If House Bills 1729, 1621, and 1436 pass, bidders on such projects would pay the state or federal minimum wage, whichever is higher.

The bills are being carried on the House Floor by Representative Jeffery Justus (R-Branson).  He is one of those who say eliminating the prevailing wage would allow public tax dollars to accomplish more in any given project because the law artificially inflates the wages paid to workers.

“Imagine our state as we go into the future being able to, at the same cost of building a road for 100 miles, be able to build 110 miles; imagine being able to repair 11 bridges for the same cost for what you can [repair] 10 bridges for now.  Imagine school buildings – being able to build where get an extra four or five rooms for what we’re paying for less now.  Imagine a sewer plant having the capacity of 5-million gallons being able to do 5-million 500-thousand gallons for the same amount of money,” said Justus.

Democrats argued that repealing prevailing wage would cause workers to receive less in wages and benefits.  St. Louis representative Karla May, a member of the Communication Workers of America (CWA) and of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), said that law exists for a reason.

“The reason why the government had to step in to create prevailing wage is because of the greed of companies and contractors not willing to pay workers and not willing to maintain good working conditions,” said May.  “The only reason laws exist is because we have bad actors.”

Representative Doug Beck (D-St. Louis), a pipefitter for the UA Local 562, told lawmakers that voting to repeal the prevailing wage law would be “foolish.”

Representative Karla May (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“You’re telling your constituents – especially your construction constituents – that you want them to make less money.  That is what will happen; that is a fact.  They will also have less healthcare.  Job fatalities go up.  Safety issues go up – they all go up.  That’s what happens.  Less pensions; we’ll be paying for this through the state some way or another  way,” said Beck.

Republican Cheri Toalson Reisch (Hallsville), who worked as the city clerk and later mayor of Hallsville, said prevailing wage is not a union vs. non-union issue.

“This is a taxpayer issue.  I don’t care if you’re a union representative or not.  That has nothing to do with this bill,” said Reisch.  “I’ve spent almost my entire life being a taxpayer watchdog.  I have personally done millions upon millions and millions of water, sewer, street, and building construction projects that had to go prevailing wage.  I can tell you it does add 30-percent to the cost to my taxpayers.”

The House voted 89-62 to send the bill to the Senate.  Last year a similar proposal was sent to the Senate but that chamber failed to pass it.

House votes to send proposed ridesharing company regulations to Governor Greitens

The state House has voted to send Governor Eric Greitens (R) a bill to regulate ride sharing companies like Uber and Lyft.

Representative Kirk Mathews (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Kirk Mathews (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representatives voted 144-7 to endorse House Bill 130, sponsored by Pacific Republican Kirk Mathews.  He told lawmakers such companies could mean thousands of jobs in Missouri, but those companies might leave the state if his bill failed.

“There’s enormous demand for these services in our state,” said Mathews.  “The economic driver that this can be for our state, not just in the way that there will be thousands of new small businesses, but keeping Missouri competitive to compete on the national stage for high-tech businesses.”

The bill would require such companies, which let customers use apps to connect them to drivers offering rides, to pay a $5,000 licensing fee and conduct driver background checks and vehicle inspections.  It would also exempt companies from local taxes and bar the hiring of drivers guilty of certain offenses.

The bill had broad bipartisan support, including from St. Louis Democrat Karla May, who had filed her own rideshare legislation.

“I just want to tell you congratulations and I’m excited,” May said to Mathews.  “I can’t wait to see these jobs come into fruition.”

HB 130 advanced in part because of a compromise with Kansas City and St. Louis, who wanted criminal background checks of rideshare drivers including fingerprinting.  Under the compromise, rideshare companies will perform checks on drivers and Kansas City and St. Louis can audit those records twice a year.

It is now up to Governor Greitens whether to sign HB 130 into law, veto it, or allow it to become law without his action.  If it becomes law it will take effect on August 28.

Missouri House sends fast-tracked right-to-work bill to the Senate

The Missouri House has advanced another priority of its Republican supermajority, sending a right-to-work bill to the State Senate.

Representative Holly Rehder carried HB 91, the right-to-work bill passed to the Senate by the House. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Holly Rehder carried HB 91, the right-to-work bill passed to the Senate by the House. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

HB 91 would bar union membership or the paying of union dues from being a condition of employment.  It would make violators of that prohibition guilty of a Class “C” misdemeanor and would require county prosecutors and the state Attorney General to investigate complaints of violations.  It would also negate existing agreements between unions and companies that require the paying of union dues or fees.

Many Republicans, like Representative Rick Brattin (Harrisonville), say right-to-work is an issue of worker freedom.

“This bill will empower the worker.  We hear the left say, ‘empowering the individual.’  That’s exactly what this bill does,” said Brattin.

Democrats like Karla May (St. Louis) say a right-to-work law will let workers who aren’t paying union dues enjoy the salaries and other benefits that unions fight for.

“You can’t walk into a company under the umbrella of freedom where we’ve been on strike 170 days with no pay.  You can’t walk in where we fought for the health benefits of somebody else without pay and you come in and get those benefits and expect not to pay dues.  The audacity of you!” said May.

Republican backers say right-to-work will bring more jobs to Missouri, and argue there are many companies that would have come to the state already if it had a right-to-work law.

Representative Charlie Davis (R-Webb City) said, “just 12 years ago we had the opportunity that one of the world’s largest automobile manufacturers was going to come to my little town of Webb City, population of 10,000.  Representative [Ron] Richard at the time, now the pro-tem of the Senate, could not guarantee that Missouri would be a right-to-work state.  Since then they’ve built two facilities in the United States, both of them in right-to-work states.”

Representative Clem Smith and other Democrats argue right-to-work will result in lower wages for Missouri workers. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Clem Smith and other Democrats argue right-to-work will result in lower wages for Missouri workers. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Democrats said the idea that a right-to-work law would result in more companies bringing jobs to Missouri is, “preposterous.”

“When this passes, and unfortunately it will pass, some of your counties will still be without jobs,” said Representative Clem Smith (D-Velda Village Hills).  “If you were knocking doors and you told your residents, ‘Oh, we’re gonna get good, high-paying jobs,’ I’m not talking about minimum wage – good, high-paying jobs and those jobs never come, you can’t blame it on the Democrats.”

The House voted 100-59 to send the bill to the Senate.

Sponsor Holly Rehder (R-Sikeston) said she will work next week on more labor reform issues when the Economic Development Committee she chairs holds a hearing on a bill supporters call “paycheck protection,” and opponents call, “paycheck deception.”  It would bar the automatic deduction of union fees or dues from a public employee’s pay except with that employee’s annual permission.  It would also bar the use of union dues or fees for political campaign donations except with permission from the union members paying them.