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Indiana Inches Closer to Repealing the Prevailing Wage; Outcry Not Limited to Dems and Labor

State Sen. Ed Charbonneau, Republican who voted against CCW repeal in committee

State Sen. Ed Charbonneau, Republican who voted against CCW repeal in committee

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HB 1019 passed the Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee by an 8-5 margin, meaning Republicans are one step closer to repealing the state’s Common Construction Wage (CCW).  All committee Republicans voted in favor of the bill except Sen. Ed Charbonneau, who joined Democrats in voting against the wage-crushing bill.  

In order to alleviate some of the objections from labor representatives and Democrats, Sen. Brandt Hershman proposed an amendment that:

“mandates all public works contractors be approved by the state and must perform at least 15 percent of the work using their own labor, services and material; requires verification that employees are authorized to work in the United States; prohibits paying employees in cash; provides for state inspection of payroll records; and compels contractors to carry general liability insurance.”  

The amendment passed on a 9-3 party-line vote.  

Despite the amendment, construction unions are rightfully displeased with the outcome, which fundamentally dismantles the state’s unique take on prevailing wages.  Indiana’s system differs from other states in that its construction wage is determined by a five-person board made up of union and nonunion contractors and two local taxpayers.  

In typically right-wing fashion, HB 1019 is being trumpeted as a cost-saver with no regard for damage done to wages, training, safety, and local economies.  “This isn’t just an issue for construction workers and contractors; lower wages mean less money spent at local restaurants and local businesses,” State Sen. Karen Tallian told The Northwest Indiana Times. “This is as much about protecting small businesses as it is ensuring a pathway to the middle class for local skilled workers.”

While protecting wages has been a top priority of those fighting against CCW repeal, an adverse effect on safety standards is also a primary concern.  James Ratican, who runs the apprenticeship program of the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE), likened a construction site to an orchestra while speaking to WBAA radio, suggesting every worker has to be working in concert, with full training, to avoid catastrophe. “You can look around here and see there is 100 ways to die out here,” he said. “You’ve got to take care of your men so safety is the cornerstone.”

Speaking to WTHI TV 10, lifelong union member Robert Pearce explained the reality of how the bill would affect him and his peers if passed:

“I’m willing to pack up and go if they do that. Yeah, because I can’t afford to take a cut in wages because somebody over at the statehouse says I ought to.

I mean I know that they’re trying to do what they think is best but it’s just not right, it’s just not. I mean if they pass that law they’ll cut my wages in half. and I’m not going to do the same job I do not for half as what I do.

Labor groups have taken to the airwaves with commercials laying out the reality of HB 1019.  But union groups are not alone in opposing repeal.  More than 30 Indiana mayors have come out against the law, including the mayors of Evansville, Boonville, Mt. Vernon, and Rockford.  In Bloomington, where a mayoral election is underway, Democratic challenger Darryl Neher has voiced strong support for the CCW, calling repeal “a short-sighted and foolhardy attack on the working men and women of Indiana.”  Neher has proposed that the city council take action and draft legislation that allows Bloomington to maintain its ability to pay fair wages on publicly funded construction projects.  

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg called on his city council to make a similar move earlier this year. As he noted at the time:

“We can hold ourselves to a higher standard, and as the Economic Policy Institute suggests, in the process we can ensure worker safety, maintain the highest standards of construction quality, keep construction costs competitive and pay fair and livable wages.”

Tellingly, David Fagan resigned from his Port Commissioner position in protest of the governor’s support of the CCW repeal.  In his resignation letter he wrote:

“In light of your public support for the repeal of Indiana’s Common Construction Wage, I can no longer in good conscience be associated with your administration.  By repealing common construction wage, you will slash wages for Indiana workers, cripple Indiana contractors, starve small businesses and reduce our state’s tax revenue,”

Fagan, a Republican, has served on the port commission since being appointed by Gov. Mitch Daniels in 2007. 


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