Last winter, the Indiana General Assembly considered legislation that would eliminate the common construction wage in the state. The proposed bill didn’t make it out of committee. However, local labor leaders in the construction trades are concerned that the bill will be resurrected in the 2015 session.
If the common wage is eliminated, it will result in job loss and lower wages for local workers, according to Chet Fincher, business agent for the Carpenters Local 615.
“We hope it doesn’t happen,” said Fincher. “The common construction wage is vital to the community. It keeps big government out of it and prevents them from messing with the wages. It keeps local guys on local projects.
“But we’re not dumb. We know there was a repeal last year that didn’t go anywhere. That is an indicator that the politicians are looking at it. We’re reaching out to anyone we can – educators, school boards, business owners – letting them know the common construction wage is good for Indiana.”
The common construction wage is set for a public works project by a committee of five appointees. Two of the members are appointed by the awarding agency. A third comes from the AFL-CIO, and a fourth is appointed by the Associated Builders and Contractors. The county commissioners appoint the fifth member.
This committee reviews the wages and benefits offered in the community and in surrounding communities and sets them at a competitive level that reflects the economic conditions in the area.
Chuck Griffin, business agent from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 873, shares Fincher’s concern. He explained that eliminating the common wage would open the door for out-of-state contractors to take public works projects away from local contractors.
“I’m afraid they will be successful in getting rid of the wage; that’s our big fight now,” said Griffin. “We’re must elect representatives who will protect the common construction wage.
“The wage gives a lot of contractors from other states the opportunity to take work from us with low-wage, low-skill workers. It takes work from the local contractors. They will be at such a disadvantage. It could crush economic development locally.”
Don Keith, president of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 103, agrees that jobs would be at risk with the removal of the common wage. And there is a question of worker safety that comes with that. He explained that local union members are better trained and have better safety records than their non-union counterparts, in general terms. He wants legislators to understand the severity of the situation and to act accordingly.
“The common construction wage is important to us. Removing it would allow contractors from other states with lower wage rates and safety ratings to come to Indiana and take our work,” said Keith.
The candidates seeking office as the State Representative for District 30, which encompasses a large part of Kokomo and Howard County, as well as parts of Grant County, were asked their position on retaining the common construction wage.
Rep. Mike Karickhoff stands firmly in favor of retaining the common wage.
“Personally, I like the common construction wage set up the way it is today,” said Karickhoff. “It allows local control and allows you to reflect the businesses and workers in your area. That’s why the Indiana Building and Construction Trades is supporting my candidacy. I have been working very closely with them and members of the republican caucus to make sure we keep the common construction wage the same.”
Candidate Chuck Sosbe also expressed support for retaining the common wage. He is endorsed by several of the local trade unions that are affected by this legislation.
“Nobody knows the exact agenda of the General Assembly, but everyone I have talked to believes that the common construction wage will be high on the agenda,” said Sosbe. “The indication is that they will reduce those wages and benefits. That should not happen.”
What would the construction landscape look like with the common wage removed? Fincher painted a bleak picture for the local economy, which would lose millions in dollars that currently are spent by workers from this area.
“These contractors don’t believe in a fair wage, and don’t have a problem bringing in 15-20 out-of-state workers, putting them up in a hotel and either paying low wages or giving them a 1099 or misclassifying them in order to get these projects,” said Fincher.
“Meanwhile, our local contractors are standing there wondering where the work has gone. There are studies out there that every dollar spent on public works projects generates $1.50 in economic value. When you’re paying local workers, that money stays here.
“They’re donating to their church. They’re going to the local stores and theaters and clubs. It is vital that we keep the common construction wage. It’s not even a union vs. non-union issue. We believe in a fair wage for all workers. It’s a Hoosier value we need to keep.”