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Changes Needed to PA’s Prevailing Wage Law, School, County
By Representative Stephen Bloom
September 30, 2013
The House Labor and Industry Committee held the last in a series of four hearings on Pennsylvania’s outdated prevailing wage law in Williamsport today. The committee heard from county, municipal and school district officials on the difficulties they’ve experienced with the half-century old law.
“I want you to know that many of us who understand that taxpayer dollars are being wasted under this archaic system are working to fix this problem in Harrisburg,” explained committee secretary Rep. Stephen Bloom (R-Cumberland). “House Bill 1538 was just passed by our committee this week and I understand that it will be on a fast track through the Legislature this fall.”
The bill, authored by Rep. Ron Miller (R-York), if passed, would allow a political subdivision to elect, by ordinance or resolution, to exclude itself from coverage under the Prevailing Wage Act. A political subdivision which elects to exclude itself from coverage may conduct a subsequent election to subject itself once again to coverage no less than four years later. The bill would essentially empower individual governments to opt out of the law.
“I need relief,” said Howard Fry, chair of the Cogan House Township Board of Supervisors in Lycoming County. “Prevailing wage in our small township is just not acceptable; there are huge differences between our small township and the big urban areas.”
“I served as a superintendent for 20 years,” said retired Williamsport Area School District Superintendent Dr. Oscar Knade. “Application of prevailing wage to projects during that time cost taxpayers 30 percent more than it should have.”
Pennsylvania’s prevailing wage law requires municipalities and school districts to pay the “prevailing minimum wage” to those working on public construction projects. The law leaves much discretion to the secretary of the Department of Labor and Industry as to how to set the wage. Currently, the secretary is opting to use the area union wage rates as the prevailing wage rate that is to be paid on public projects. It is argued by Prevailing Wage Act reform proponents that union wage rates are more comparable to wages rates paid in larger cities, and often do not reflect the actual prevailing wages paid in rural areas. Reform advocates believe that basing prevailing wage rates in rural counties on union wage rates inflates the costs of public projects anywhere from 5 percent to 40 percent.