Pa. Conservatives Push Repeal of Wage Law

Monday, 02 Apr 2012 12:09 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Pennsylvania lawmakers are caught in the middle of a fight between conservative groups pushing for repeal of the state’s 50-year-old prevailing wage law and construction unions trying to preserve it.
The law, enacted in 1961, requires prevailing wages, which usually means the average union scale, be paid on public projects costing more than $25,000, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. A House compromise bill to be voted on next week would raise the project threshold to $185,000 before the accepted union wage would kick in.
Critics of the law have long argued that paying union scale wages drives up project costs and increases the burden on taxpayers. Republicans, who control the state House and Senate, would like to see the threshold raised even higher, to at least $500,000.
Construction unions, however, claim the law protects the public dollar because union workers produce better results than non-union tradesmen, many of whom are not as well trained or skilled at what they do.
Matt Brouillette, head of the conservative Commonwealth Foundation, takes issue with that claim. He told the Post-Gazette that union work isn’t any better on government projects than that done on private jobs. The only difference, he said, is the public construction ends up costing more.
How the prevailing wage is determined is also a major issue with the law. Unions defend their wage scales, noting that they are based on the average of wages they report each year to the state.
Non-union companies don’t generally report what they pay their workers, according to the Post-Gazette. If they did, the unions argue, it would likely lower the statewide prevailing wage, which would translate into lower project costs.

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