Local governments unite against prevailing wage

PAT FRIDGEN

As encouraged by the Franklin County Council of Governments, municipalities and school districts are adopting a resolution urging the Pennsylvania legislature to repeal the prevailing wage act, or to pass another law allowing local entities to be excluded or to adopt their own prevailing wage ordinances.

Antrim Township, the Borough of Greencastle and Greencastle-Antrim School District have addressed the issue.

Antrim adopted the resolution on July 12. Greencastle passed it Aug. 1. The school board discussed prevailing wage on Aug. 4 and will vote on the resolution Aug. 18. All of the elected officials favor getting rid of Pennsylvania Prevailing Wage Act of 1961, citing its financial burden on taxpayers, especially those who did not live in the urban  areas of Philadelphia or Pittsburgh. The standard of living is much lower in rural communities, they say, which should mean more reasonable payscales for laborers on public projects.

Antrim was not sure who to send the resolution to, and decided at least to inform Sen. Rich Alloway and Rep. Todd Rock. By the July 20 meeting of COG, that joint organization also supported the grass roots effort begun by Shippensburg borough and Antrim to sway legislators. The COG chair, Franklin County commissioner Bob Ziobrowski, agreed to take the resolutions from each COG member to the politicians.

By Tuesday of this week, he had received 12 resolutions from across the county. “It would appear they are being passed without delay,” he said. “Our legislative delegation is unanimous in their opposition to the existing Prevailing Wage law. The COG action is an attempt to keep this issue on the front burner in the Pennsylvania legislature.”

Unfair wording

The clause that most offends local officials is that if a public construction project costs more than $25,000, laborers must get paid a wage set by the Secretary of Labor and Industry rather than what is acceptable in the local markets. Those rates, union-scale, tend to add 20 to 40 percent to the cost of personnel. The boost in expenses gets passed on to the taxpayers.

Borough manager Kenneth Womack said more people would be put to work because municipalities could do more projects if they didn't cost so much for labor. Council president Charles Eckstine added, "Some local contractors don't bid on prevailing wage jobs because of the extra paperwork."

At the same time, school board vice president Mike Shindle said workers like to get assigned those jobs because of the higher pay. The minimum price for a project mandating prevailing wage should be raised, he stated.  

"It doesn't even make sense," agreed William Thorne.

Another argument by the boards is that the discrepancy in pay for wages typical to Franklin County versus wages prevalent in Philadelphia causes tension among employees within companies, and the bosses have to try to dole out the projects equitably for morale purposes. Resolution proponents also argue that competitive bidding would result in more economical projects and that quality work is achieved through good job-specs and adequate oversight, not inflated wages.

Supervisor Fred Young III would like to see the 1961 act abolished.

The resolution urges passage of House Bill 1191 or Senate Bill 795. Both would exclude political subdivisions, and retain the current law only for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and its agencies. Rock and Alloway support the respective bills, which were sent to the Labor and Industry Committee in March.

Rock favors raising the threshhold for public works projects to $185,000 and to exempt school districts from prevailing wage, concepts introduced in other bills.