By: Matt Jaworski
Labor Citizen Writer
State Sen. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, introduced a bill on Feb. 27 to make the state’s prevailing wage law optional for municipalities.
Should Senate Bill 72 pass and then be signed by Gov. John Kasich, governing bodies in Ohio could vote to pay construction workers less than the established prevailing wage on taxpayer-funded construction projects.
The current Prevailing Wage Law was enacted in 1931 and received bi-partisan support to ensure taxpayers receive the best quality work product for the lowest possible price.
Making the law optional would likely leave union construction workers with a reduced paycheck, weaken union apprenticeship programs and could lead to out-of-state contractors winning more bids than in-state contractors.
Municipalities will also suffer if lesser quality construction work is performed on roads, bridges and other projects.
“If Huffman’s bill passes, municipalities will no longer be required to go with the lowest and best bid, but just the lowest bid,” said Dorsey Hager, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Columbus/Central Ohio Building and Construction Trades Council. “This will result in a sub-standard quality of work that will cost more in the long run.”
Opposition to SB 72 believes the bill is a lose-lose situation for the union construction industry Ohio taxpayers.
Ohio’s Prevailing Wage Laws require construction contractors who work on public projects to pay construction workers at least the prevailing wages and benefits in the area in which they are working. Prevailing Wages are the actual hourly wages, benefits and overtime to be paid to workers, calculated by the U.S. and Ohio Departments of Labor for construction trades.
Under Huffman’s proposal, construction workers would be paid far less for the same amount of work.
Standing outside the construction jobsite of the new City of Columbus Government Building and City Hall on Feb. 28, Matt Szollosi, Affiliated Construction Trades (ACT) Ohio Executive Director, explained that if passed, SB 72 could decrease the average union construction worker’s paycheck by 16 percent.
As a result of the legislation, more work would go to out of state contractors who pay their employees less.
“The introduction of this bill will be viewed by construction workers across Ohio as a kick in the teeth,” Szollosi said.
The bill, he argued, will not provide the savings proponents of this legislation claim it will produce.
“Study after study has shown no savings through the repeal of the prevailing wage,” Szollosi said. “The labor portion of a construction project amounts to approximately 23 percent of total costs, so the notion that project owners can save millions of dollars by cutting the pay of construction workers is unfounded.”
“With the lack of skilled, trained labor on these jobsites,” said Hager, “projects will be less safe and not come in on time and be over budget.”
Joining Szollosi Feb. 28, Dennis Duffey, Secretary/Treasurer of the Ohio State Building and Construction Trades Council and a Navy veteran, outlined the harm the bill would cause Ohio’s veterans working in construction.
“Repeal or severe weakening of Ohio’s prevailing wage statute would result in 4,100 blue collar veterans separating from their jobs, and an additional 3,900 would lose health coverage,” said Duffey.
“Veterans are over represented in the construction industry, which means this bill will take money out of the pockets of those who have served our country and returned home to find a career in the construction industry,” he said.
Under his plan, Huffman told reporters governments could save money by spending less for construction labor, as market forces would take hold and dictate their salaries.
“Each of the local jurisdictions should be able to decide what they pay for what they’re going to get,” Huffman said at a Feb. 27 press conference.
Huffman went on to compare the labor costs to build municipal infrastructure to the labor cost of building a home.
“We don’t have prevailing wage in private construction,” said Huffman. “We’re not afraid to walk into those buildings. If we made people pay prevailing wage on the construction of their homes, there’d probably be a riot.”
This statement came after Huffman previously pointed out the Ohio School Facilities Commission does not require school districts to require Prevailing Wage on the construction of new schools funded with state taxpayer dollars.
While the schools did not fall down, ACT Ohio’s website says the loss of Prevailing Wage caused a documented surge in the poor and substandard quality of work being done on numerous schools across the state, leading to costly overruns and repairs.
According to the Columbus Dispatch, Gov. Kasich has not discussed Prevailing Wage in recent years.
As of March 3, the legislation has not been placed into committee and it remains in the Senate under introductory status.