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City Council opposes governor's prevailing wage proposal

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City Council opposes governor's prevailing wage proposal
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

The Hudson City Council has gone on record in opposition to Gov. Jim Doyle's proposed changes to the state's prevailing wage law.

The council voted 5-1 on April 1 to approve a resolution urging the state Legislature to strip the prevailing wage changes from the 2009-11 budget bill.

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The governor's proposal would make the prevailing wage law applicable to any construction project over $2,000 that receives any government assistance.

The existing law requires contractors to pay the average wage for different types of jobs on multiple-trade public works projects over $234,000 and on single-trade projects over $48,000.

The state Department of Workforce Development conducts annual wage surveys and sets the prevailing wage in each county for the different types of construction work.

Besides lowering the threshold for when the law would apply to public works projects, Doyle's proposal is to require prevailing wages to be paid on commercial projects that receive government grants or loans.

The law would require private businesses that construct buildings in tax increment financing districts to pay prevailing wages, for example.

"That sounds like the government telling private contractors what they have to pay," Alderperson Lee Wyland said of the proposed changes.

"That's exactly what it is," Alderperson Lori Bernard offered.

Mayor Dean Knudson said the resolution opposing the changes came from the Wisconsin League of Municipalities.

Cities around the state have adopted the resolution. They say that applying the prevailing wage law to private projects that get public financing would be a major disincentive to economic development and job creation.

The changes also would drive up the cost of public projects, the resolution says.

Knudson said the proposal essentially would require contractors to pay union wages.

Alderperson Scot O'Malley, the one council member who opposed the resolution, took issue with that statement.

Prevailing wages in a county aren't necessarily union wages, he said.

O'Malley said he pays the prevailing wage to a crew in the building trades that he employs because it is the right thing to do.

"The people who don't get paid the prevailing wage are recent immigrants to this country," he said, and asked why the city wouldn't be in favor of paying wages that members of the community can afford to live on.

"I'm ashamed to be connected to this," he said.

"It's not the government's job to tell employers how much to pay their employees," Bernard replied.

O'Malley responded that government is involved in the regulation of private enterprise every day.

He said the country's current economic slump, caused by a lack of regulation in the financial system, is evidence of how well the economy functions when businesses are allowed to do whatever they want.

"I think the market is the best to determine what is best for highly skilled tradesmen," Knudson countered.

The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development Web site (www.dwd.state.wi.us) provides a list of 2009 prevailing wages for St. Croix County. It's broken down into a number of types of construction projects and dozens of occupations.

For example, the prevailing wage for a carpenter on a "building or heavy construction" project is $26.11 per hour, plus $11.26 per hour in fringe benefits, for total compensation of $37.37 per hour.

The prevailing wage for a cement finisher is $22.00 per hour (not including fringe benefits); for a drywall taper, $24.50; electrician, $27.95; ironworker, $31.60; plumber, $32.24; roofer, $28.24; tile setter, $29.09; one- or two-axle truck driver, $21.24; truck mechanic, $19.00; general laborer, $17.50; and a landscaper, $22.97.

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Randy Hanson
Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.
(715) 426-1066
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