Lawmakers consider changes to CT’s prevailing wage []

March 18, 2015

Article as it appeared in

The tug-of-war between labor and business over Connecticut’s prevailing wage is heating up once again at the State Capitol.

A litany of bills aimed at reducing, or outright eliminating, the state’s prevailing wage are being debated in the Labor and Public Employees Committee, drawing support from businesses and some municipalities and opposition from unions.

State Sen. Toni Boucher (R-Wilton) is behind many of the measures, including Senate Bills 180, 181, and 182. One bill aims to eliminate Connecticut’s prevailing wage, while the other two propose to increase the wage threshold.

Prevailing wage laws require workers on public works construction projects to receive the same wage that is customarily paid for the same work in the project’s town. For example, if a bricklayer on a private-sector job in Farmington customarily receives $59.96 an hour in wages and benefits, a bricklayer on a public works construction project in town is required to be paid the same rate.

The law aims to keep government’s use of low-bid contracting from significantly reducing the market price of labor.

Currently, 32 states and the federal government have prevailing wage laws. In most states, prevailing wage only kicks in when a public works project’s contract value meets or exceeds a pre-determined threshold amount. Since 1991, Connecticut’s threshold has been $400,000 for new construction and $100,000 for remodeling.

In one of her bills, Boucher, who argues the prevailing wage serves as an unfunded mandate on cash-strapped municipalities by driving up capital project costs, proposes to increase the threshold to $5 million for new construction and $2 million for remodeling.

Several small towns, including Coventry, Bolton, Harwinton, and Lyme, submitted testimony supporting the proposals.

The National Federal of Independent Business also voiced support for changes, specifically asking the state to adopt a $1 million threshold for all projects, arguing that current prevailing wage laws make it harder for small construction firms to win project bids.

Lori Pelletier, executive-secretary treasurer of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, provided written testimony opposing any prevailing wage law changes, arguing they help protect the state from attracting unskilled, cheap labor.

“Weakening this law will undoubtedly further open the floodgates for out-of-state companies to under-bid projects, bus in their own out-of-state workers, and pay them a low wage with no health insurance,” Pelletier wrote.

It’s unlikely lawmakers will approve any major changes to Connecticut’s prevailing wage, particularly with the House and Senate controlled by Democrats. However, that doesn’t stop the issue from being raised at the legislature on annual basis.

Some small towns in particular are pushing for changes as they face continued budgetary pressures.