Wisconsin May Ban Prevailing Wages, Project Labor Pacts

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By Michael J. Bologna

Prevailing wage requirements and project labor agreements would be prohibited under a proposal in Wisconsin’s 2017-19 biennial executive budget and tandem legislation speeding through the state legislature.

Gov. Scott Walker (R), already recognized for his tough stands against organized labor, included a single sentence in his 644-page budget proposal Feb. 8. The language repeals the state’s prevailing wage requirements and bans “any unit of government in the state from requiring or considering the use or lack of use of a project labor agreement by a contractor as a condition of bidding on a public works project.”

The state legislature could beat Walker to the punch under separate bills that would prohibit state and local units of government from requiring project labor agreements as part of public works programs. The Senate passed its version of the PLA bill, Senate Bill 3, by a vote of 19-13 on Feb. 8. The Assembly’s Committee on Labor approved nearly identical legislation, Assembly Bill 24, on a party-line vote Feb. 9.

Both bills prohibit state and local agencies from: requiring that a bidder enter into an agreement with a labor organization; considering whether a bidder has entered into an agreement with a labor organization as part of the contract process; or requiring that a bidder enter into an agreement that requires membership in a labor organization.

Walker’s budget proposal and the two PLA measures are expected to find support during the current legislative session. Republicans hold comfortable majorities in both the Senate and the Assembly and have supported an aggressive pro-business agenda since Walker took office in 2011.

Unfinished Business

The budget proposal represents a bit of unfinished business for Walker. His first budget in 2011 included Wisconsin Act 10, which eliminated most collective bargaining rights for public sector workers across the state. In March 2015 the governor signed legislation making Wisconsin the nation’s 25th right-to-work state.

And in July 2015, Walker signed legislation repealing a large portion of the state’s prevailing wage requirements. Local units of government were prohibited from enacting their own prevailing wage ordinances, but the law retained prevailing wages for state and highway projects. Wages were linked to federally determined wage rates rather than rates previously determined by Wisconsin’s Department of Workforce Development.

Rep. Peter Barca (D), minority leader of the Assembly, railed against the various requirements bearing down on organized labor.

“Both of these moves will drive down wages for many workers in Wisconsin,” Barca said in a statement Feb. 9. “This is exactly the wrong direction for our state. With one of the most diminished middle classes in the entire country, Democrats believe we should prioritize investing in worker training to close the skills gap and raise the minimum wage. Republicans seem to prioritize limiting local control and paying Wisconsin workers less.”

But Americans for Prosperity-Wisconsin, which has stoked much of the anti-labor fervor in Wisconsin, described S.B. 3 as a tool for fairness in state contracting.

“This bill is all about giving a fair shot at government work to the majority of Wisconsin construction workers that don’t want to be in a union,” said Eric Bott, AFP’s Wisconsin state director. “This legislation will help protect thousands of Wisconsin workers, level the playing field for small businesses, lower the burden on taxpayers, and reduce opportunities for cronyism.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael J. Bologna in Chicago at mbologna@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Christopher Opfer at copfer@bna.com

For More Information

Text of Senate Bill 3 is available at http://src.bna.com/l9V and of Assembly Bill 24 at http://src.bna.com/l9U.

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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