Politics & Government

House panel stops bill to limit prevailing wage law in Kentucky

Union workers attended a House committee meeting Thursday to oppose exemptions to the state’s prevailing wage law.
Union workers attended a House committee meeting Thursday to oppose exemptions to the state’s prevailing wage law. jbrammer@herald-leader.com

In a room filled with union workers, a House committee on Thursday killed a bill to exempt school and university construction projects from Kentucky’s prevailing wage law.

Each time a member of the House Labor and Industry Committee cast a “no” vote on Senate Bill 7, loud applause from the union workers followed.

The sponsor of the measure, Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder, said after his bill was defeated on a 14-6 vote that he would bring it back next year.

“There will be a different makeup of the committee,” he said.

Republicans hope to wrest control of the state House from Democrats in this year’s elections, allowing them to put Republicans at the helm of each committee.

All Republicans on the committee, except Rep. Jim Stewart of Flat Lick, voted for the bill.

Bill Finn, director of the Kentucky State Building and Construction Trades Council, said unions still have plenty to worry about this year.

He noted that Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposed state budget calls for suspending the prevailing wage on public works projects and that SB 94, sponsored by Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Latonia, would allow local governments and special purpose governmental entities to opt out of prevailing wage requirements for public works.

The prevailing wage law generally sets higher wage rates for public works projects. Supporters, including unions, contend it is needed to provide quality work in school construction. Its opponents say it needlessly drives up construction costs for schools.

Schroder maintained his bill would save money for schools, but Finn and Charlie McCoy, a retired state labor official, said studies about that were inconclusive.

“Prevailing wage supports a strong economy with middle-class jobs,” McCoy said.

In explaining his vote against the bill, retiring Rep. Larry Clark, D-Louisville, said he was not going to spend his last year in the legislature cutting workers’ wages.

But Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsvile, said he was voting for the bill on behalf of school students.

Rep. Dennis Horlander, D-Louisville, suggested that the legislature look at salaries of school superintendents and administrators rather than salaries “of hard-working people.”

But it’s reasonable to look at school construction costs when the state is concerned about public pensions and other needs, said Rep. Adam Koeing, R-Erlanger.

Rep. Will Coursey, D-Symsonia, voted from a hospital bed, where he is recuperating from back surgery. He participated in the meeting by teleconference.

He said he opposed the bill because it would lead to poorer construction of schools by untrained workers. “I won’t send my daughter to a shoddy-built school,” he said.

Jack Brammer: (502) 227-1198, @BGPolitics