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Building Trade Unions again under attack in Harrisburg

06.04.13

JUNE 2013, LEHIGH VALLEY Edition of The Union News

Building Trade Unions again under attack in Harrisburg

BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSABE@AOL.COM

REGION, May 9th- Legislation was voted out of committee by the Pennsylvania House Labor and Industry Committee so they may be considered by the full Pennsylvania House of Representatives that could effect labor organizations affiliated with the building and construction trade unions. The committee is chaired by Monroe County Representative Mario Scavello (Republican-176th Legislative District).

On April 16th the House Labor and Industry Committee voted two anti-prevailing wage bills out of committee that adds to the number of bill’s that have been introduced in this legislative session in the Pennsylvania General Assembly that attacks provisions of the Pennsylvania Prevailing Wage Act.

Also, Project Labor Agreements (PLA’s) are again under attack that help state building and construction union workers gain employment that is at least partially funded by taxpayer money.

A PLA is a comprehensive agreement signed between a builder and local craft unions under which a defined construction project is agreed to be completed by workers from local union halls, in return for the union’s guarantee of no strikes, a steady well trained labor supply, and general labor peace. Under a PLA, a nonunion contractor could still be hired for a project, however if they are selected, local unionized workers must be hired.

The anti-prevailing wage legislation is supported by the anti-union, pro-business members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly.

Frank Sirianni, President of the Pennsylvania Building and Construction Trades Council in Harrisburg, which is a labor federation representing labor unions that members are employed within the building and construction trade industry, stated the bills are just two of a large package of new anti-union bills that have been recently introduced and represent a bold new set of attacks on workers by this misguided anti-worker agenda.

House Bill (HB) 665 would change the definitions of “construction” and “maintenance” projects so that more public projects would be classified as “maintenance” and therefore be exempt from prevailing wage laws. “Maintenance” projects under this proposed legislation would include full replacement of guide rails, curbs, pipes, and other road equipment as well as repaving up to 3 1/2 inches of road surface, including associated milling. This would exempt a huge number of construction crews from prevailing wage protections.

HB 796 would amend the Pennsylvania Prevailing Wage Act to raise the threshold from $25,000 to $100,000 for projects that would be subject to prevailing wage laws. This bill is a transparent effort to undermine prevailing wage laws in the commonwealth.

The Keystone Research Center (KRC), a progressive economic think tank in Harrisburg, released a study that indicated prevailing wage laws help prevent the construction industry from degenerating into destructive wage and price competition, which drives skilled and experienced workers from the industry, reduces productivity, and quality, and leads to poverty-level jobs, without saving construction customers any money.

The Keystone Research Center stated claims by opponents that prevailing wage laws costs as much as 30 percent is implausible hypothetical calculations and not based on actual numbers.

In Pennsylvania labor compensation on construction projects accounts for only 24 percent of total costs on average. Also, the hypothetical calculations assume that when wages and benefits drop, everything else, including worker skill levels and productivity, remain unchanged.

Mr. Sirianni stated that if Pennsylvania policy makers want to save money of public construction, the best route would be to shift public construction to periods of higher unemployment. Pennsylvania should launch a “Buy Low” initiative by increasing the state’s bond-financed investments in schools, transportation, and infrastucture