Senators Endorse New Guidelines for Public Construction Projects

Sat March 10, 2007 - Midwest Edition

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) Past division ended with consensus Feb. 20 as senators gave quick initial approval to legislation setting new guidelines for contractors on public construction projects.

The legislation strikes what its sponsor calls a “delicate balance” between competing union and nonunion workers by placing new restrictions on union-only contracts but raising the penalties tenfold for contractors who fail to pay employees the local prevailing wage.

“There’s something for labor to like in this, and there’s something for the independent shops to like,” said Sen. John Loudon, R-Chesterfield, chairman of the Small Business, Insurance and Industrial Relations Committee.

Put another way: “Nobody’s a victor and nobody’s a total loser in this,” said Sen. Tim Green, D-St. Louis, a union electrician and president of the Missouri State Building and Construction Trades Council.

Last year, senators worked into the middle of the night to reach a compromise on the legislation. But the agreement fell apart and the bill never came to a vote.

This year, the Senate gave the bill first-round approval by an overwhelming voice vote after barely an hour of debate. The bill needs another Senate vote to move to the House.

The bill deals with construction projects for the state, counties, cities, schools and other governmental entities.

Governments currently have the option of issuing bid specifications that include “project labor agreements,” which mandate union working conditions for contractors in exchange for pledges that workers will not strike or hold out for wage increases.

Republican senators and nonunion contractors sought in previous years to ban such labor agreements on all public projects — a move fiercely opposed by unions and Democratic senators.

This year’s bill bans those union-only contracts for any projects receiving more than half of their funding from the state. For all other building projects, governments would first have to analyze the merits of mandating a labor agreement and hold public hearings before doing so.

Another prong of the bill deals with the state’s “prevailing wage” law, which sets the minimum wages that must be paid on public works projects.

The bill would bar unions and others from giving contractors rebates or wage subsidies that essentially reduce the employees’ pay below the prevailing wage for a public building project.

The legislation would increase the penalty to employers of $100 — instead of the current $10 — per day for each employee paid below the prevailing wage. It also would allow disputed wage cases to be settled by arbitration.

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