FRANKFORT — Republicans have made repealing the prevailing wage law and passing a right to work law (which would allow workers at union shops to opt out of the union) part of their agenda and likely part of their campaign strategy this fall when they hope to take over the House majority. Democrats generally oppose both measures, claiming they are anti-union and hurt the middle class.
Phillips told the committee that supporters of repeal overstate cost savings from lower wages on the projects. For such projects to see a 20 to 25 percent reduction in costs, contractors would have to cut wages by 50 percent, he said.
He also claimed neighboring states that have repealed prevailing wage requirements for public projects have not seen a significant per-foot cost reduction.
Phillips said it wouldn’t just be union laborers who would suffer from repeal: “Approximately one-half of workers who will be affected by prevailing wage are non-union workers.”
Koenig told Phillips that the prevailing wage (which is determined by state senatorial districts) ranges from $21.75 in Kenton County in northern Kentucky to $38.96 in Pike County in eastern Kentucky. “That seems fairly out of whack,” Koenig said.
Phillips responded that such disparities usually have more to do with small statistical samples rather than actual market conditions. Some Democrats pointed out Pike County is a major coal-producing county. That, they said, draws workers who might otherwise go into construction and consequently there is a short supply of construction workers in the county. Higher wages are necessary to attract skilled laborers from farther away.
Union members applauded as nearly every Democrat voting to kill the bill took time to “explain” his or her vote, each praising the work of unions and their members.
“I’m tickled to death,” said Oney after the vote, acknowledging the vote is likely to be reversed if Republicans gain control of the House.
“Oh, yeah, they’d reverse it in a hurry,” Oney said. “But we’re working very hard to see they don’t (win control).”
RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.