A Wisconsin state Senate committee is set to act next week on a bill to repeal the state’s prevailing wage law, potentially setting the stage for Capitol protests by organized labor.
Labor committee chairman, Senator Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) has scheduled a public hearing for Tuesday, and a committee vote on Thursday.
“The big thing is, it’s going to diminish quality of work on projects that are done by communities across our state,” said Senator Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee). “You’re not going to have the same high standards that folks are used to.”
Under the prevailing wage law, workers on publicly financed projects must be paid the same hourly wage, benefits and overtime as other workers, based on a complex formula and wage surveys around the state.
Republican proponents of repealing the decades-old law claim it would save taxpayers money, pointing to a study by the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, which found that state and local governments would have saved $200 to $300 million in 2014 by paying “market-based” wages on taxpayer financed construction projects. The study was commissioned by the Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin.
While Nass forges ahead with repeal in his Senate committee, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos indicated this week that he doesn’t have the votes for that, and will try instead for adjustments to the law within the state budget.
“This may just be an Assembly versus Senate Republican kind of thing, where the right hand doesn’t know what the far right hand is doing, or they’re just trying to compete for how far they can go, and take our state over the edge,” Larson said.
Opponents of the measure claim it will decrease wages for all workers. “They’re not hiding the ball anymore,” said Larson. “This is it. They’re trying to reduce wages, so I encourage everyone to show up and make sure there voices are heard on this.”
Debate on Republican authored right to work legislation earlier this year saw hundreds of union members and supporters converge on the Capitol for days of protests.