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Jan
2015
23

IN Republican Joins Former Dem Mayor of Terre Haute in Opposing GOP’s Construction Wage Slashing Bill

The old Vigo County courthouse.

The old Vigo County courthouse.


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In Indiana, two Vigo County commissioners and a union representative are speaking out against a proposed bill that would make drastic changes to the state’s Common Construction Wage (CCW). The CCW is the state’s version of the prevailing wage found in other states.  

Encouragingly, Republican Brad Anderson is standing alongside Democrat Judy Anderson in opposing the anti-CCW bill. Construction unions in the Midwest are known for frequently being able to bridge the partisan divide on their issues.

John “JB” Strange, financial secretary of Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 157, formerly sat on the CCW committee as the AFL-CIO’s appointee.  Speaking to the Tribune Star, Strange warned that changes could be dangerous for the state’s workers and the political careers of those who rock the boat. “The legislature is asking for trouble,” he said.

The CCW was created by Republicans in 1935 to prevent the practice of southern contractors undercutting bids with cheaper, less skilled workers.  Protecting this law has always been contentious:

Prevailing wage was a big issue in the mid 1990s in the Indiana Statehouse when thousands of union workers filled the streets around the Indiana Government Center and Indiana Statehouse when a bill was filed to eliminate Indiana’s prevailing wage law. After that rally, Indiana in 1995 expanded common construction wage committees to five people from three people.

Then in 2012, the threshold for projects that must go before committees was raised to $350,000, from $150,000. That was done, Strange said, after lobbying by the nonunion Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), which lobbied to be on the wage committees. The wage committees now include: an ABC representative; a representative of the agency with a project, such as the Vigo County Public Library; a taxpayer appointed by the agency with the project; a representative of the AFL-CIO building trades; and a representative of the county executive.

Elimination of the CCW is far less likely than raising of the threshold which triggers it, meaning fewer projects would be subject to its wage standards. But as Strange explains, a threshold change would still do serious damage:

”If you raise it to a $1 million minimum, you might as well not have a wage committee at all. It is the same as eliminating the law,” Strange said.

“We’re obviously not in favor of eliminating the common construction wage or increasing the threshold for projects,” Strange said. “There is taxpayer money going into these jobs, and we represent local people. This would be a kick in the teeth to working people in this area. It would allow out-of-state contractors, who do not have the training that we have, to undercut local contractors,”

Despite the difference in party affiliation, Brad Anderson and Judy Anderson agree that the current system works not only for the state of Indiana, but for Vigo County and the city of Terre Haute, where Judy Anderson was formerly mayor.  Brad Anderson, whose understanding of the importance of worker-supportive policies stems from his father’s years as Vice President of the Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen & Helpers Local 144, told the Tribune Star:

“I think they (state legislature) should keep it the way it is. Projects that are $350,000 are big projects,” Anderson said. “It allows workers to make a good living wage. It keeps your local people working. It keeps a constant in our wage levels.”

Following the November election, the Republican party made it clear that the Common Construction Wage was in its cross hairs. A similar bill was introduced in the winter of 2013 and failed to pass the house committee level.

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