Senate stalls discussion on repeal of construction wage law

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Indiana Senate leaders chose to postpone discussion Monday on a proposal that would repeal the state's law that sets wages for public construction projects, just hours after thousands of contractors and union members rallied against the measure at the Statehouse.

Senate President Pro Tem David Long said lawmakers will discuss the measure Tuesday, allowing more time to consider the 27 proposed amendments. Changes include further study on the issue, rather than repealing the law this session.

More than 2,000 people cheered and chanted "Enough is enough" at the rally as construction company officials and legislators denounced the bill that would eliminate the boards that set wages for state or local building projects costing more than $350,000.

The repeal has been pushed by Gov. Mike Pence and GOP legislative leaders who say the boards, made up of people appointed by labor unions and an association of nonunion contractors, set wages that are artificially high and prevent lower, more competitive bid prices that would save taxpayers money on public projects.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, has previously cited studies from other states that found such changes could save an estimated 10 percent to 20 percent on state construction projects by allowing more contractors to pay less than union-scale wages.

But opponents of the measure say it's a myth that repealing the law would greatly reduce project costs as bill supporters contend.

Phil Kenney, president of Indianapolis-based FA Wilhelm Construction, said "those numbers don't add up" and "the only way that they would get those savings is to drive wages and benefits (for workers) down to nothing."

Critics of the measure argue that repealing the decades-old law would hurt many Indiana-based companies by opening the door for low-paying, out-of-state contractors to underbid.

"When the transient, unskilled construction workers flood our state, which they most certainly will, those folks who have worked so hard to take care of their families here in Indiana will not be able to work on the very projects that they pay for via their taxes," said Jeff Hagerman, chairman of the Fort Wayne-based Hagerman Group.

Hagerman said it could also negatively impact worker safety and salaries, and prevent Indiana workers from finding local employment.

For employers who already have a hard time recruiting new workers into the industry, repealing the law will only make that job harder, Kenney said.

"How are we as employers supposed to recruit young people or anyone into an industry with low wages and low benefits?" he asked Monday's crowd. "It can't happen."


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