CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The bill to repeal the state’s prevailing wage laws passed the House of Delegates Wednesday as local lawmakers weighed its impacts and local labor officials were disappointed with the results.
HB 4005 called for the repeal of the law that sets the hourly pay rates for workers on state-funded projects.
“The purpose of this bill is to repeal the article requiring public authorities engaged in the construction of public improvements to pay a prevailing hourly rate of wages,” the bill states.
Supporters of the bill said its purpose is to give everyone an equal playing field when bidding on contracts.
Prevailing wage, as calculated by the state, is always much higher than the market wage paid for private projects, and costs government entities and taxpayers several times the amount of money it would otherwise have cost, supporters of repeal have said.
In the 55-44 vote, all of Wood County’s House members voted for the repeal except for Delegate John Kelly, R-Wood.
“That was a flawed bill from the beginning,” Kelly said.
After talking with businesses in the area, Kelly said he wanted to provide time for businesses across the state to be able to adjust to the change.
“We needed to give businesses time to work through the changes,” he said. He brought up similar concerns last year with the prevailing wage repeal bill that was considered.
Kelly said he offered changes to the bill to address his concerns and the concerns of some local businesses, but they were not taken up.
“We should have been able to fix it,” he said.
With the talk of the prevailing wage repeal and Right To Work legislation, businesses needed time to make adjustments on how they handle these issues, Kelly said.
“We didn’t give it time to work,” he said.
Delegate Bill Anderson, R-Wood, said it was a difficult vote for him to make as he knows people in the construction trades.
“For me, it was a matter of making the best use of the taxpayers’ money,” he said. He supported a compromise last year to recalculate prevailing wage and set a threshold to determine which projects would make use of prevailing wage. But problems arose with how that was going to be calculated and its fairness, Anderson said.
Lawmakers were informed Alpha Natural Resources would have to lay off 800-900 workers as a result of closing its coal mines.
“That will result in an additional $4 million hole in the state budget,” Anderson said of a state budget that has already taken a number of hits. “We can’t continue as we have been and expect different results.”
Repealing prevailing wage will help the state get more use out of the money it is spending on projects, Anderson said.
“This is an opportunity for us to be able to build more rooms in schools for the same amount of money,” Anderson said. “We have to maximize what we are getting for the money we are spending. I felt it is what is necessary at this point in our state’s history.”
Bill Hutchinson, business manager for the Parkersburg-Marietta Building and Construction Trades Council, said the organization was not happy with the actions taken by the Republican majority in the House.
“We are disappointed,” he said. “With all of the problems the state is facing, the Republican majority in the House and the Senate’s biggest priority seems to be to attack hardworking middle-class citizens. There are more pressing things out there in order to help the state.”
Through prevailing wage, there are certain expectations in the quality of the work for the higher cost being paid, Hutchinson said. It also pays a livable wage to workers and helps keep quality people on the worksite, he said.
The current laws give the priority to West Virginia companies and workers on state jobs.
Out-of-state companies can bid next to nothing to do the work and they end up taking that money back to where ever they are from and it is not spent here in West Virginia, Hutchinson said. The labor some of these companies may use is not as skilled as what is already in place here, he said.
“I don’t believe it will save the state much money,” he said of the bill’s passage.
The bill will now be sent to the Senate.