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Nov
2014
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Indiana Construction Unions Brace for Wage Law Repeal Fight in 2015

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In Indiana, labor groups and their affiliated workers are preparing for what many feel is an inevitable attack on the state’s Common Construction Wage (CCW) during next year’s legislative session.  A repeal of the law, which governs wages on public works projects and is similar to the “prevailing wage” for construction workers in other states, was debated last winter by the Indiana General Assembly. A bill on the matter, however, failed to pass committee. 

The Indiana GOP has constantly called law into question but has never generated enough opposition to its worker-protective purpose to achieve repeal.

In April of 2011 the Indiana Senate voted to make changes to the law based on the recommendations of the anti-union contractors lobby, the Associated Builders and Contractors.  Since, the state’s building trades unions have been hard at work informing the general public about the benefits of the CCW. Last year they released a white paper debunking several of the arguments made by those who favor reform of the law.

With Indiana republicans holding majorities in both the house and senate, fear of repeal is on high:

“We hope it doesn’t happen,” said [Chet Fincher, Business Agent of Carpenters Local 615]. “The common construction wage is vital to the community. It keeps big government out of it and prevents them from messing with the wages. It keeps local guys on local projects.

“But we’re not dumb. We know there was a repeal last year that didn’t go anywhere. That is an indicator that the politicians are looking at it. We’re reaching out to anyone we can – educators, school boards, business owners – letting them know the common construction wage is good for Indiana.”

The CCW is similar to the prevailing wage, but it is determined using a different formula by a committee of five appointees.  Two of the five members are appointed by the agency awarding the funds.  The AFL-CIO selects another member and the state Building and Construction Trades Council selects another.  County commissioners appoint the fifth member.  The committee then researches wages and benefits in the region and sets the CCW at a competitive level that reflects the economic conditions of the area.  Repeal of the CCW opens Indiana up to fly-by-night, out-of-state contractors who could win work on public works projects by outbidding local contractors because of shoddy work and wage standards.

Chuck Griffin, Business Agent with International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 873, touched on this when speaking with the Kokomo Perspective:

“I’m afraid they will be successful in getting rid of the wage; that’s our big fight now,” said Griffin. “We’re must elect representatives who will protect the common construction wage.  The wage gives a lot of contractors from other states the opportunity to take work from us with low-wage, low-skill workers. It takes work from the local contractors. They will be at such a disadvantage. It could crush economic development locally.”

The issue is not entirely partisan, however. Republican State Rep. Mike Karickhoff supports the CCW and argues that the current system garners bipartisan support because it is viewed as fair and supportive of the local workforce.  Karickhoff plans to fight to keep the law as-is:

“Personally, I like the common construction wage set up the way it is today,” said Karickhoff. “It allows local control and allows you to reflect the businesses and workers in your area. That’s why the Indiana Building and Construction Trades is supporting my candidacy. I have been working very closely with them and members of the republican caucus to make sure we keep the common construction wage the same.”

The Common Construction Wage only applied to public projects with price tags of $350,000 or higher.

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