Delaware legislators clash over Prevailing Wage law

DOVER — Should a bricklayer working on a government-funded building project be paid more than double his or her normal wage?

That’s what surrounds the debate on prevailing wage laws, which govern how much workers get paid on government construction projects.

Unions value prevailing wage because it guarantees a higher rate of pay for laborers. As a whole, Democrats in the Delaware General Assembly support the laws, thanks in part to their union ties.

On the other hand, Republican legislators say prevailing wage laws artificially inflate costs that add to the taxpayers’ burden.

Prevailing wage has become the battleground for one of the newest disagreements between the parties, and it could have bigger consequences than labor wages.

Legislation was introduced earlier this month by Democrats to revamp the state’s prevailing wage laws. House Bill

PREVAILING WAGES The latest argument between lawmakers involves prevailing wage laws, which govern the rate at which workers are paid for qualifying state projects. New state-funded construction that costs more than $100,000 requires all workers to receive a set hourly wage, which varies depending on the laborer’s job and location. For renovation and minor repairs, the threshold is $15,000. House Bill 145 would raise the level to $500,000 for new projects and $45,000 for alterations, thus limiting the number of enterprises under which workers must be paid prevailing wage. Republicans have supported raising the levels even further, arguing the laws cost the state millions. BUILDING CONSTRUCTION ClassificationNew CastleKent	Sussex Asbestos workers	21.87	26.94	39.20 Boilermakers	39.67	33.22	48.83 Bricklayers	49.39	49.39	49.39 Carpenters	51.86	51.86	41.22 Cement finishers	69.27	29.11	21.20 Electrical line workers	43.49	37.29	28.44 Electricians	63.60	63.60	37.29 Elevator constructors	80.31	40.93	30.55 Glaziers	67.35	67.35	20.15 Insulators	53.38	53.38	53.38 Iron workers	60.12	60.12	60.12 Laborers	40.95	40.95	40.95 Millwrights	47.47	65.23	51.80 Painters	43.04	44.94	44.94 Piledrivers	71.17	37.64	30.45 Plasterers	21.60	28.55	17.50 Plumbers/pipefitters	62.20	36.66	54.49 Power equipment operators	43.88	58.31	24.13 Roofers-composition	21.82	20.45	17.63 Roofers-shingle/slate/tile	17.59	13.72	14.10 Sheet metal workers	47.05	64.16	64.16 Soft floor layers	48.57	48.57	48.57 Sprinkler fitters	53.52	53.52	53.52 Terrazzo/marble/tile finishers	54.11	52.50	45.45 Terrazzo/marble/tile starters	62.13	60.28	52.63 Truck drivers	24.43	26.64	20.03 HEAVY CONSTRUCTION Classification	New Castle	Kent	Sussex Asbestos workers	21.14	18.60	40.43 Boilermakers	73.62	30.73	56.37 Bricklayers	44.98	22.19	23.83 Carpenters	51.86	51.86	41.22 Cement finishers	43.00	23.30	16.00 Electrical line workers	62.75	26.30	62.75 Electricians	63.60	63.60	63.60 Glaziers	19.54	16.96	11.48 Insulators	53.38	53.38	53.38 Iron workers	60.12	60.12	55.78 Laborers	40.95	40.95	40.95 Millwrights	65.23	65.23	51.80 Painters	77.09	60.64	60.64 Piledrivers	69.32	37.64	29.30 Plasterers	18.40	15.97	10.80 Plumbers/pipefitters	76.78	76.78	17.12 Power equipment operators	47.93	59.81	59.81 Sheet metal workers	29.40	18.23	17.13 Sprinkler fitters	31.68	11.99	9.93 Truck drivers	28.31	19.72	21.40 HIGHWAY CONSTRUCTION Classification	New Castle	Kent	Sussex Bricklayers	49.39	49.39	14.51 Carpenters	42.55	51.86	41.22 Cement finishers	31.06	30.92	19.65 Electrical line workers	22.50	22.50	21.25 Electricians	63.60	63.60	63.60 Iron workers	42.20	23.87	25.35 Laborers	31.10	34.12	37.75 Millwrights	16 .11	15.63	13.49 Painters	48.84	48.84	48.84 Piledrivers	66.42	23.75	26.95 Power equipment operators	39.15	32.92	29.04 Sheet metal workers	22.75	20.31	18.40 Truck drivers	32.31	20.65	25.55

PREVAILING WAGES
The latest argument between lawmakers involves prevailing wage laws, which govern the rate at which workers are paid for qualifying state projects. New state-funded construction that costs more than $100,000 requires all workers to receive a set hourly wage, which varies depending on the laborer’s job and location. For renovation and minor repairs, the threshold is $15,000.
House Bill 145 would raise the level to $500,000 for new projects and $45,000 for alterations, thus limiting the number of enterprises under which workers must be paid prevailing wage.
Republicans have supported raising the levels even further, arguing the laws cost the state millions.
BUILDING CONSTRUCTION
Classification New Castle Kent Sussex
Asbestos workers 21.87 26.94 39.20
Boilermakers 39.67 33.22 48.83
Bricklayers 49.39 49.39 49.39
Carpenters 51.86 51.86 41.22
Cement finishers 69.27 29.11 21.20
Electrical line workers 43.49 37.29 28.44
Electricians 63.60 63.60 37.29
Elevator constructors 80.31 40.93 30.55
Glaziers 67.35 67.35 20.15
Insulators 53.38 53.38 53.38
Iron workers 60.12 60.12 60.12
Laborers 40.95 40.95 40.95
Millwrights 47.47 65.23 51.80
Painters 43.04 44.94 44.94
Piledrivers 71.17 37.64 30.45
Plasterers 21.60 28.55 17.50
Plumbers/pipefitters 62.20 36.66 54.49
Power equipment operators 43.88 58.31 24.13
Roofers-composition 21.82 20.45 17.63
Roofers-shingle/slate/tile 17.59 13.72 14.10
Sheet metal workers 47.05 64.16 64.16
Soft floor layers 48.57 48.57 48.57
Sprinkler fitters 53.52 53.52 53.52
Terrazzo/marble/tile finishers 54.11 52.50 45.45
Terrazzo/marble/tile starters 62.13 60.28 52.63
Truck drivers 24.43 26.64 20.03
HEAVY CONSTRUCTION
Classification New Castle Kent Sussex
Asbestos workers 21.14 18.60 40.43
Boilermakers 73.62 30.73 56.37
Bricklayers 44.98 22.19 23.83
Carpenters 51.86 51.86 41.22
Cement finishers 43.00 23.30 16.00
Electrical line workers 62.75 26.30 62.75
Electricians 63.60 63.60 63.60
Glaziers 19.54 16.96 11.48
Insulators 53.38 53.38 53.38
Iron workers 60.12 60.12 55.78
Laborers 40.95 40.95 40.95
Millwrights 65.23 65.23 51.80
Painters 77.09 60.64 60.64
Piledrivers 69.32 37.64 29.30
Plasterers 18.40 15.97 10.80
Plumbers/pipefitters 76.78 76.78 17.12
Power equipment operators 47.93 59.81 59.81
Sheet metal workers 29.40 18.23 17.13
Sprinkler fitters 31.68 11.99 9.93
Truck drivers 28.31 19.72 21.40
HIGHWAY CONSTRUCTION
Classification New Castle Kent Sussex
Bricklayers 49.39 49.39 14.51
Carpenters 42.55 51.86 41.22
Cement finishers 31.06 30.92 19.65
Electrical line workers 22.50 22.50 21.25
Electricians 63.60 63.60 63.60
Iron workers 42.20 23.87 25.35
Laborers 31.10 34.12 37.75
Millwrights 16 .11 15.63 13.49
Painters 48.84 48.84 48.84
Piledrivers 66.42 23.75 26.95
Power equipment operators 39.15 32.92 29.04
Sheet metal workers 22.75 20.31 18.40
Truck drivers 32.31 20.65 25.55

145 would raise the prevailing wage rate amounts.

In Delaware, the threshold is $100,000 for new construction and $15,000 for repairs or additions, meaning all projects exceeding the relevant sum require that the government pay out prevailing wages.

The pay rate can exceed the normal wage for laborers, although in other instances there’s little difference. A bricklayer doing building construction earns $49.39 an hour statewide — but for heavy projects, defined as virtually anything that isn’t a building or street, workers in New Castle County and workers in lower Delaware make very different salaries.

In New Castle, the set rate of pay for a brickmason is $44.98 per hour, whereas in Kent it’s $22.19 and in Sussex it’s $23.83. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the 2012 median hourly wage for the occupation was $21.61 nationally.

Prevailing wage laws have existed in Delaware since 1992. Thirty-two states and the federal government have regulations governing pay on government-funded work.

For Delaware, the rate for workers is set by the Department of Labor based on “the same rates established in collective bargaining agreements between labor organizations and their employers that govern work of a similar nature and similar crafts or classes of laborers and mechanics for the county where the public works contract will be performed if that particular labor organization’s collective bargaining rate prevailed and they participated in the survey, for that particular trade or craft in that particular county for two consecutive years.”

In 2013, prevailing wage was cited as the reason why a $100,000 sum raised by the nonprofit group associated with the Rockwood Museum in Wilmington was declined. County Executive Tom Gordon and New Castle County Council opted to refuse the donation, arguing the work would cost more than $100,000 and thus require the state pay the prevailing wage.

Prevailing wage laws not only ensure workers receive higher salaries, they can also lead to more consistent bids, say its proponents. With a typically high set minimum salary rate for employees, contractor bids are subject to less variation.

While prevailing wage does increase the spending needed for state projects, Democrats argue that the benefits to workers are worth it.

On the other hand, Delaware Republicans claim the expenses cost taxpayers, increasing costs by between 20 percent and 35 percent. With a higher level, fewer projects would qualify, meaning total wage payments would be lower.

The state would then get a “bigger bang” for its dollars, Minority Leader Rep. Daniel Short, R-Seaford, said.
House Bill 145, which would raise the rates, is the product of months of negotiations between lawmakers. It was introduced this month in an effort to gain support for Division of Motor Vehicles fee hikes.

But not a single Republican signed on to support the bill, and leadership has protested its introduction.

“Forty-five thousand dollars is certainly nowhere near enough. You’re not getting any benefits at that level for renovations,” Minority Leader Sen. Gary Simpson, R-Milford, said.

The current level of $15,000 is “meaningless” and the proposed amount is not much better, Minority Whip Sen. Gregory Lavelle, R-Sharpley, said.

Republican leadership has proposed a bill that would raise the construction amount to $500,000, the same level as in the Democratic-backed bill, but also would increase the renovation level to $250,000.

Set to be introduced soon, the bill has been circulated. Like House Bill 145, the draft bill has divided the caucuses, receiving support only from the minority.

Speaker of the House Peter Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, said the Democrats had agreed to discuss changing prevailing wage in exchange for support for higher DMV fees, which would be used to fund infrastructure projects.

Negotiations between lawmakers of both parties, as well as unions, brought the sides close to a deal on occasion before things fell through, Rep. Schwartzkopf said. He put the blame on Republican leadership, although Rep. Short said Democrats were unwilling to make major changes.

Currently, the renovation level has become a sticking point — and it’s holding up a potential $24 million that would go to infrastructure.

With no Republican support, the DMV bill passed the House by the thinnest of margins.

Were it 2014, the lack of minority support would be just a minor problem for the Democrats. But now, with the Democratic Senate caucus no longer possessing the 60 percent super majority needed to pass fee bills, Republican approval is necessary.

Sen. Lavelle believes leadership intends to stand firm.

“It’s not going to fly if I have anything to do with it,” he said of the DMV bill.

But Rep. Schwartzkopf said Thursday he is optimistic. The two sides are set to meet this week and continue the negotiations that previously had broken down.

Rep. Schwartzkopf said he’s spoken to some Republican legislators who support the intent of the DMV bill; he believes rank-and-file members are starting to put pressure on leadership to sign on to the deal.

Another facet of the Democratic-backed bill would change the method by which the prevailing wage rate is adjusted.

A survey is supposed to help set the rate, but according to Rep. Schwartzkopf, many businesses do not fill it out, which can skew the reported data.

House Bill 145 would develop a committee that would study possible improvements to prevailing wage, with the goal of developing a report by Jan. 20.

Although Republicans have argued the majority caucuses are refusing to compromise, Rep. Schwartzkopf noted the new renovation total proposed by Democrats is three times the current one, while the Republican idea would increase it nearly 17-fold.

Still, Republicans offer words of caution. They envision projects costing less due to lower labor expenses — which would lead to more construction and improvements, some sorely needed, lawmakers say.

“It could save a heck of a lot of money,” Sen. Lavelle said.

For now, both sides have dug in their heels, but it’s getting late. Only 13 legislative days are left, and prevailing wage is not the only major issue confronting the General Assembly.

Changes are all but certain — it’s just what exactly the renovations level would become that’s holding up lawmakers.

“If we can’t get Republicans to come across and help us on that, Lord help us on the budget,” Rep. Schwartzkopf said.

 

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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