Liz McCormick Published

Prevailing Wage Bill Passes in the House


As it’s made its way through the legislative process, Senate Bill 361 has incited just as much passionate debate as any other issue on the House floor. On Saturday, Delegates approved the bill that drastically changes the way the state will calculate the prevailing wage.

The House galleries were packed with concerned construction workers and contractors, waiting for a decision regarding Senate Bill 361. Those concerned citizens waited through three hours of debate before finally getting a decision. The bill has gone through some major changes since it was first introduced in the Senate. Starting out as a full-repeal of the prevailing wage, that chamber changed the bill to include a recalculation, pulling it from the hands of the state’s Division of Labor and instead granting the calculation authority to Workforce West Virginia and the centers for economics at both Marshall and West Virginia Universities.

Many Republicans like this new version, because they say it calculate the wages of workers more effectively so those workers would receive equal or appropriate pay.

Democrats however, didn’t feel like this was accurate and say the facts were never adequately researched to prove the partial repeal would actually be effective.

“This is our money, our moral obligation,” said Delegate Stephen Skinner of Jefferson County, “I mean, are we really gonna start bringing in the contractors from Texas? From Mexico? From wherever? Are we gonna let our people thrive and be able to spend money? Where’s the data? There’s nothing. We haven’t had the evidence; it’s all anecdotal. It’s not fair. We make a decision like this, and we talk about, it hasn’t been vetted. I ask, what do you need to vet it? ‘We don’t need to vet it.’”

Democrat Michael Ferro of Marshall County says the bill is a repeal in disguise.

“Obviously I rise in opposition of this bill,” Ferro said, “because what it does is it cuts wages, it reduces safety standards for workers, it potentially puts local contractors out of work, it makes West Virginia open for business; open for business by opening the door for cheap, substandard labor, and undocumented workers.”

Delegate John Kelly of Wood County was one of the few Republicans who voted against the bill. Kelly says he opposes the minimum project cost provision in the bill, which means a government project would not be subject to the prevailing wage until it reaches a cost of half a million dollars or more.

“Part of what the committee has done is the right thing to do,” Kelly noted, “they’ve come up with a recalculation, and they’ve come up with a calculation that makes the establishment of that wage fairer. But the second thing they did is put a 500,000 dollar cap on it, and that I don’t like. I believe if the salary is computed, it’s computed fairly. We don’t need to put that wage, er that cap on it. And that cap becomes an artificial barrier within the law.”

Delegate John Shott of Mercer County and the Judiciary Chair, was confused by the accusations from members that this bill would repeal the prevailing wage.

“I’ve made it clear all along, I would not vote to repeal the prevailing wage,” Shott explained, “I think it has a place here in this state and others in protecting our workers from unfair out of state competition or unfair competition anywhere, so I went back to the bill, and I started looking through it to see what had changed from the law that currently exists, and I noticed we changed the word locality, which was defined as the county to regions; that didn’t seem to be justifying the kind of passion that we’d seen. I saw where we had changed the word workmen to workers; that certainly makes sense. I saw where we had changed the person who’s charged with protecting our taxpayers’ money from the commissioner of labor to Work Force West Virginia, in cooperation with the Bureau of Business and Economics at WVU and the Center for Business in Economic Research. And I did see the threshold, now I will, can see that that’s a change, that’s a major change, and it certainly would justify a spirited debate over that feature, but I saw nothing in this bill that makes us a non-prevailing wage state.”

Delegate Daryl Cowles of Morgan County and the Majority Leader said this bill is a good compromise.

“What’s before you is a compromise, a reform to the prevailing wage in an effort to meet the fairness that we need to provide to the tax payers,” Cowles said, “We have been responsive to the concerns, we leave in place a prevailing wage and find a way to set a fair, realistic calculation of the prevailing wage. But we must be fair to the taxpayer, we must be fair to the local governments, we must be fair to the volunteer fire departments, and we must be fair when we build water and sewer lines. The rate payers pay, it’s the rate payers that pay. We’re not in favor of raising rates. We must be fair. The inflated wage rates are unfair, and this is a step to try and calculate the true prevailing wage.”

Senate Bill 361 passed 56 to 39.