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Opposition to Responsible Bidding in Illinois is Mere Prevailing Wage Hate in Disguise

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Months after Illinois’ new prevailing wage laws caused a political divide among Kane County Board Members, the issue is at the forefront again because the same commissioners serve on the Kane County Forest Preserve District Board. To quote Yogi Berra, “It’s like Deja Vu all over again.”  

At issue is a requirement that would-be contractors participate in training and apprenticeship programs approved by the U.S. Department of Labor, or what are often referred to as a “Responsible Bidder Ordinances” which attempt to maintain quality controls and develop a future workforce for a given region.  

The issue has split the board along party lines with Democrats approving of the law and Republicans calling it ‘forced unionism’:  

On Thursday, district staff members pitched a resolution to commissioners calling for state lawmakers to reject HB 924. The bill would amend the state’s Prevailing Wage Act to require contractors to meet “responsible bidder” standards under the Illinois Procurement Code. Those standards include having those same apprenticeship and training programs the county board rejected in June.

The Illinois Association of Park Districts, of which the forest preserve is a member, is lobbying against the bill “because it would impose standards that many small businesses may be unable to satisfy,” according to a November legislative bulletin put out by the association. “Applying this standard to local government contracts would ultimately reduce the number of eligible bidders, particularly on smaller projects, which may increase labor costs,” the bulletin reads.

The executive meeting of the board provided an opportunity for both sides to remake their points.  Kara Principe, an attorney for the Indiana, Illinois, Iowa Foundation for Fair Contracting, argued the neutrality of the law:

“This will help promote objective and standardized training throughout the industry,” Principe said. “Doctors, lawyers and engineers are all required to have standardized, objective training and testing. But when it comes to construction, we seem to forget how to determine who is trained or not, who is qualified or not.”

Her point was refuted by Forest District President John Hoscheit:

In (Principe’s) comments, there was innuendo that this is not union versus nonunion,” Hoscheit said. “As a practical reality, with these additional requirements, it would limit the number of bidders we have for our projects. There are very few nonunion contractors who have these apprenticeship programs.”

Kane County Democratic Party Chairman Mark Guethle also attended the meeting.  He said that he felt many of the board members were “misinformed” about the new law.  He claimed any objection to this law is really an objection to the concept of a prevailing wage in general.

“There’s no data that it would raise costs or push away contractors,” Guethle said. “At its core, this is a transparency measure. There is training for everything else; why not this? What’s really going on here, what they really want to do, is get rid of the Prevailing Wage Act.”


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