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Prevailing wage change proposed

Published (3/30/2012)
By Nick Busse
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Members of the building trades unions fill the hearing room where the House Ways and Means Committee hears testimony March 28 on a bill that would make changes to the prevailing wage that contractors must pay their workers for state-funded construction in Greater Minnesota. (Photo by Paul Battaglia)The formula used to calculate the prevailing wage that contractors must pay their workers for state-funded construction projects could change for those in Greater Minnesota.

Rep. Peggy Scott (R-Andover) sponsors HF1476 that would alter the method of calculating the prevailing wage to use the “mean,” or average wage, instead of the wage paid to the largest number of workers (i.e. “mode”).

It would also change the prevailing hours of labor to allow for four 10-hour workdays instead of five eight-hour days. The latter change would apply to the entire state.

The House Ways and Means Committee voted to table the bill on a motion from Rep. Lyndon Carlson Sr. (DFL-Crystal). Chairwoman Rep. Mary Liz Holberg (R-Lakeville) had planned to lay the bill over, but Carlson said he preferred to table it because it put the bill one step further away from passage. The vote was 14-13.

As originally drafted, the bill would have changed the way prevailing wages are calculated throughout the entire state; however, Rep. Denny McNamara (R-Hastings) successfully amended the bill to apply only to Greater Minnesota.

“The prevailing wage is not an issue in the metro area like it is in outstate Minnesota, where unfortunately we’re really hurting small contractors and their ability to compete in their own hometown,” McNamara said.

Harry Melander, president of the Minnesota Building and Construction Trades Council, said the bill would unfairly drive down wages for rural construction workers. He also said the proposed change from an eight to a 10-hour workday would result in lower wages statewide by cutting into some workers’ overtime pay.

“We believe what’s good for the metro area is also good for Greater Minnesota. … We are all Minnesotans and we should be treated that way,” Melander said.

Sen. John Pederson (R-St. Cloud) sponsors the companion, SF1199, which awaits action by the Senate Finance Committee.

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