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Prevailing wage debate heats up in Connecticut
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The Connecticut Mirror published a story last week about the growing debate between municipalities and labor unions over prevailing wage. Town leaders feel the system imposes unaffordable labor charges, while labor leaders point out the system protects towns from unscrupulous contractors who undercut companies that play by the rules.

Connecticut??s prevailing wage law is gearing up to be one of the more hotly contested topics during the state's 2011 legislative session. Approximately 25 bills related to the prevailing wage statute have been introduced during the session, which began Jan. 5 and will run until June 8.

Currently, communities must pay the prevailing rate on renovation projects costing more than $100,000 and new construction over $400,000. Some argue this threshold should be raised to $500,000 for renovations and $1 million for new construction, while others propose a $1 million floor for all projects.

Glenn Marshall, newly appointed Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Labor and former Regional Business Manager for Connecticut Locals 24, 43 and 210, is quoted in the article:

??I totally understand in the economic climate we??re in that people want to cut costs, I personally don??t believe it should come off the backs of the workers.??

Marshall points out that the industry has been harmed by the growing underground economy and he fears that raising the threshold for prevailing wage projects could open a new series of projects for unscrupulous contractors to pursue.

The Labor and Public Employees Committee held a public hearing on prevailing wage at the Legislative Office Building in Connecticut. In addition to proposing revisions to the prevailing wage law, municipal leaders also called for the state to revise the binding arbitration mandate. In binding arbitration, when the two sides can??t reach an agreement on a union contract, an arbiter fashions a contract after hearing from both sides.

Mark Erlich, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters testified at the hearing in opposition to the suggested changes. He presented data that shows that the notion that repeal of the prevailing wage law would save taxpayers money is overblown. Erlich??s testimony can be read here.

Erlich noted that ??the intent of prevailing wage legislation is to ensure that taxpayers get value for their public construction investment.??

??Weakening the state??s prevailing wage law in any fashion would hurt workers, hurt the painfully slow process of economic recovery, and ultimately lead to unsafe conditions on public projects and the delivery of shoddy construction products subsidized by taxpayer dollars.??

Erlich wrapped up his testimony saying ????If this committee wants to perform a public service by re-evaluating the current status of the prevailing wage law, please do not consider elimination of the statute. Instead, I would urge you to review all sources of public funds that do not currently trigger the use of prevailing wages. Extend the application of this valuable law; don??t remove it.??

To read more about the hearing visit Hartford Courant??s website.

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