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 project labor agreement ban to Governor Greitens

Missouri legislative Republicans’ labor reform agenda took another step Thursday with the final passage of a bill barring project labor agreements (PLAs) for public projects.

Representative Rob Vescovo began proposing a ban on project labor agreements for public projects when he was first elected to the House for the 2015 session. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Rob Vescovo began proposing a ban on project labor agreements for public projects when he was first elected to the House for the 2015 session. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The House voted to send Senate Bill 182 to Governor Eric Greitens (R), who had called for the elimination of PLAs.

Under a PLA, a governing body requires non-union contractors to pay union dues to workers on a project.  SB 182 would prohibit that, and would bar local governments from giving preferential treatment to union contractors.  Governing bodies that violate the bill’s provisions would lose state funding and tax credits for two years.

Republicans said PLAs are unfair to non-union workers and contractors.  Arnold representative Rob Vescovo (R) said PLAs discriminate against the largest segment of Missouri’s workforce.

“86-percent of that workforce will not be able to do work on those job sites or bid on those job sites unless they sign a project labor agreement,” said Vescovo.

Lake St. Louis Republican Justin Hill said PLAs amount to extortion.

“Those non-union contractors are forced to pay union dues into benefits that they will never receive,” said Hill.

Representative Bob Burns said project labor agreements are good tools for local governments, which the legislature should not move to take away. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Bob Burns said project labor agreements are good tools for local governments, which the legislature should not move to take away. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Democrats called the legislation an attack on unions.  Representative Bob Burns (D-St. Louis) said PLAs protect local governments by ensuring that they will have work done that is quality and completed on time by skilled workers.  He said his time on a board of education in Affton provided evidence of that.

“A lot of things that should have lasted 25, 30 years were failing after 5 years or 2 years, and these contractors were nowhere to be found,” said Burns.  “The district wouldn’t have to spend more funds to get something done and get it fixed if it would’ve been done properly in the first place.”

SB 182 was carried in the House by Vescovo, who began introducing such legislation as a freshman in 2015.  It is expected Greitens will sign the bill into law.

The House’s passage of SB 182 follows other labor reforms it has proposed, including the passage of a right-to-work bill signed into law by Greitens earlier this year.  That legislation prevents the collection of union dues or fees from workers as a condition of employment.

Earlier story:  House Republicans continue labor reform efforts; address project labor agreements

House close to proposing a repeal of Missouri prevailing wage law

The state House has given initial approval to a repeal of Missouri’s “prevailing wage” law, which sets what local governments and school boards must pay for construction or maintenance work.

The wage is set on a county-by-county basis based on wage surveys for each type of work, such as carpentry, bricklaying, or electrical work.  When a county does not have adequate wage data, the union rate for that trade is used.

Republicans supporting House Bill 104 say the prevailing wage law drives up the cost of projects, making local governments postpone work or forgo it altogether.  The sponsor of HB 104, Representative Warren Love (R-Osceola), said his bill would allow more projects to move forward.

“We talk about economic development in this state.  I can’t think of hardly anything that’s been brought forward that will create more work for Missouri workers,” said Love.

Love gave the example of an ambulance district in his district that was based in a house, which needed roof repair after a hailstorm.  Love said other, similar repairs in the area were costing about $22,000, but because the ambulance district must pay prevailing wage, it would cost more than $63,000.

“The insurance company, due to the similar, like projects in that area only paid $22,000 for that public work project, so the other $40,000 had to come up and be made out of the ambulance district, which was taxpayer money,” said Love.

Democrats including Doug Beck (D-St. Louis) say the legislation is simply another attack on workers.

“There’s been study after study that says that eliminating the prevailing wage does not reduce construction costs.  All it does is reduce the amount of revenue that comes into a state from construction workers,” said Beck.

Grandview Democrat Joe Runions said eliminating prevailing wage would lead to more jobs going to contractors from other states, who would take their pay back out of Missouri.

“Then local contractors will come back and continue to have to fix what’s screwed up,” said Runions.

Opposition to HB 104 was bipartisan, but it was given first-round approval on a 93-60 vote.

Another vote could send HB 104 to the state Senate.  It would be the continuation of the House Republican Supermajority’s labor reform efforts this year, which have also included passage of a bill to require annual permission from a worker before union dues could be taken from his or her pay, and a right-to-work bill that has been signed into law by Governor Eric Greitens (R).

House Republicans continue labor reform efforts, address project labor agreements

The House Republican supermajority advanced another piece of its labor reform agenda, with the passage of HB 126 related to project labor agreements.

Representative Rob Vescovo (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Rob Vescovo (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The bill would bar required union agreements on public works projects.  Bill sponsor, Representative Rob Vescovo (R-Arnold) said project labor agreements discriminate against non-union workers and called them, “indefensible.”

“Project labor agreements are designed to stifle competition and force non-union contractors to become signatory on certain projects,” said Vescovo.

Democrats like Bob Burns (St. Louis) said project labor agreements allow local governments to guarantee quality work will be done.

“This is only for one reason:  to lower wages.  That’s all it’s about.  We want to pay less wages,” said Burns.  “They’re not talking about quality.  They’re not talking about safety.”

The bill goes to the Senate, which has already passed similar legislation.

The House earlier this session joined the Senate in sending Governor Eric Greitens a right-to-work bill, which was signed into law earlier this month.  The House also passed a bill supporters call, “paycheck protection,” which requires annual permission from a public union employee before union dues or fees can be taken from his or her paychecks.

Legislation dealing with prevailing wage laws, which make contractors pay a state-set minimum wage for trade workers on public projects, is moving through House committees and could be the next labor reform the chamber will debate.

Republicans’ labor reform agenda continues; House sends paycheck legislation to Senate

House Republicans have advanced another piece of their labor reform agenda, sending to the Senate legislation they call “paycheck protection.”  Democrats decry the bill as an attack on unions, calling it “paycheck deception.”

Representative Jered Taylor (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Jered Taylor (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Bill 251 would bar the automatic deduction of union dues and fees from a public employee’s paycheck without that employee’s annual, written consent.  It also specifies that information on how such deductions are used must be available to employees.

St. Louis Democrat Doug Beck said the bill is an attempt to take away the voice of middle class workers.

“Workers already have this freedom, to join or not join a union.  They can do it any time during the year.  We heard plenty of testimony on this.  They make it real easy on public employees whether they want to join or not join; whether they want to give money to political cause or whether they don’t want to give money to political cause,” said Beck.  “I don’t understand why we care about what people do with their money after they earn it.  It’s their money.  They can do what they want with it.”

Bill sponsor Jered Taylor (R-Nixa) rejected the argument that the bill is an attack on workers.

“I would say it’s the exact opposite of that.  It allows them to choose whether they want to be a part of the union.  Rather than having to go through multiple people, do multiple things in order to get out of the union, being forced to pay those dues,” said Taylor.

The legislation was sent to the Senate on a 95-60 vote.

House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) said his supermajority will continue working on labor reform legislation that Republicans believe will improve Missouri’s business climate and bring more jobs to the state.  The next such issue the House will debate will be project labor agreements.