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Local and Franklin County officials want to change Pa.'s prevailing wage law

August 21, 2008|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- Local and county government officials say Pennsylvania's 47-year-old prevailing wage law is adding millions of dollars to the cost of public works projects, money that has to come from taxpayers.

Although some voices were raised in support of paying higher wages to workers, the Franklin County Council of Governments Wednesday unanimously approved a strategic action plan to pressure the state into repealing or amending the law, which dictates wages to be paid on government projects above $25,000.

That $25,000 threshold has remained constant since 1961, while wages go up every year, Washington Township Manager Mike Christopher said. Adjusted for inflation, the threshold would now be more than $172,000, he said.

The COG supports a plan that includes educating citizens statewide about the additional costs incurred by the law; lobbying through state associations for boroughs, townships , school districts and private industry; and even a convoy of elected officials to Harrisburg to show support for change.

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Prevailing wage is based on union wages paid in the Pittsburgh or Philadelphia areas, said Bruce Hanson, executive director of the Pennsylvania House Labor Relations Committee. Repealing the law would be difficult politically, but returning to a county-by-county prevailing wage used briefly in the 1990s might work.

During that time, Chambersburg was able to use a county prevailing wage on a $17.8 million sewage treatment plant enlargement project, trimming $1.8 million from the project, Borough Council President William McLaughlin said.

An area roofer paid $21 an hour could make $50 an hour under the prevailing wage law, said Joan Warner, president of the Associated Builders & Contractors Cumberland Valley Chapter.

"It seems like we're putting it all on the backs of the laborers," said Greencastle Borough Councilwoman Michele Emmett. Local governments should want higher wages for citizens, she said.

While higher wages are something workers want, local contractors said most public works contracts go to outside companies, local business people said.

"We try to avoid bidding public projects," said Eagle Construction President Frank Traber. Beyond the problems of competing with larger outside firms, the paperwork on prevailing wage projects is daunting, the taxes and overhead are higher and it creates a pay disparity between workers on public and private job sites, he said.

Green Township Supervisor Todd Burns said a June Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision applying prevailing wage to more phases of road projects caused the township to rebid a paving contract. The second round of bids came in more than $122,000 higher, much of which he attributed to prevailing wage.

"I don't think we're going to eliminate prevailing wage tomorrow," said state Rep. Todd Rock, R-Franklin. Supporters of changing the law are about 30 to 40 votes short of being able to do so, he said.

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