State prevailing wage laws still unclear

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State prevailing wage laws still unclear
By Phil Kabler, The Charleston Gazette

One day after legislative leaders denounced WorkForce West Virginia’s plan for recalculating the state’s prevailing wage rates, and voted down a motion to keep the current rates in effect to Sept. 30, the fate of state prevailing wages was unclear Tuesday.

While legislative leaders took steps Monday to halt WorkForce West Virginia’s proposed recalculation, the governor’s office Tuesday issued a statement calling on the agency to proceed with its work.

During Monday’s meeting of the Joint Committee on Government and Finance, House and Senate leaders denounced the plan, released June 1, to conduct a survey of more than 5,000 building contractors and subcontractors around the state to come up with new prevailing wage rates for state-funded construction projects. That’s part of legislation passed during the regular session (SB361) to replace the current system administered by the Division of Labor, a system critics contend inflates wages paid on state-funded construction projects.

In a statement Tuesday, Chris Stadelman, spokesman for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, indicated that Tomblin intends for Workforce West Virginia to proceed with its plan for recalculating prevailing wage rates.

“Gov. Tomblin understands establishing acceptable prevailing wages provides stability for the construction industry, and is confident Workforce West Virginia, in conjunction with West Virginia University and Marshall University, can work together in the upcoming weeks and months to determine more accurate prevailing wages for West Virginia,” Stadelman said.

On Monday, legislative leaders essentially ordered Workforce West Virginia to instead rely on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures to come up with the new wage rates.

Jeff Green, research director for Workforce West Virginia, told committee members it would be difficult to come up with accurate wage rates using that data, since the bureau’s figures mix residential construction, which pays lower wages, with commercial and heavy construction projects, and also includes wages for apprentices, who are paid at lower rates.

Green could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Under the legislation to recalculate prevailing wage, the Legislature does not have authority to reject the methodology proposed by WorkForce West Virginia, in conjunction with economic researchers at the two universities.

However, Joint Committee members, on a party-line vote, rejected Monday a motion by Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, to extend the current prevailing wage rates to Sept. 30, an option provided under the new legislation.

Green had said previously the new wage rates could not be set until this fall, since it will take time to conduct and analyze the surveys of contractors.

That means that barring other action, possibly including an executive order from the governor, there will be no prevailing wage rates in effect for state-funded construction projects bid out on or after July 1.