Liz McCormick Published

Sen. Joe Manchin Speaks at Public Hearing on Prevailing Wage Bill


Senate Bill 361 made its way into the House Thursday. What had been a full repeal of the prevailing wage all together is now just a scale back. And this compromise received an endorsement from U. S. Senator Joe Manchin.

The House Chamber was packed with union workers, contractors, business owners and others who were interested in seeing what the House would do with Senate Bill 361.

After emotional debates over the bill on the senate floor, and a rally organized by Senator Jeff Kessler that saw over 1000 protestors who were heavily against the bill, a compromise was found in the senate that made what was originally a full repeal of the prevailing wage, to only a partial repeal.

In the House Government Organization Committee’s public hearing, twenty-five people spoke to explain their feelings toward the controversial bill.

However, many of the speakers were not fully against the bill, but for the compromise passed by the Senate.

Robert Gribben is the president and owner of Grae-Con Construction in Weirton. He says the lowering of the prevailing wage would cost his business highly-skilled workers.

“The lowering of the prevailing wage most likely we’re going to lose a lot of these workers,” Gribben said, “because they’re going to go to the states surrounding us that do have a prevailing wage rate. Some of them will stay here and they’ll work in private industry, but there’s not going to be enough work to keep all of our West Virginian’s busy.”

Donald Gatewood, the president of American Energy Contractors in Huntington says he was originally for a full repeal, but now is interested in the compromise offered by the Senate.

“What the Senate has done with 361 and the amended version is, it’s a good compromise, because what it does is it takes prevailing wage, and it should make it prevailing wage, it should turn it into the market wage, which has a lot of benefit to this state, and most importantly, not to either of my companies, but most importantly to the tax payers of this state,” Gatewood said, “and I think we all have a fiduciary responsibility in this room to make sure that the tax payers in this state are paying fair costs for their construction work. This is not about cutting wages, I’m not at all for cutting wages, it’s about letting the marketplace work.”

In a surprise visit, Senator Joe Manchin also spoke at the public hearing.

00000174-a7b1-ddc3-a1fc-bffb33ea0000“I think we all know that West Virginia has some of the best workers, and the best workforce, and the best reputation for workers in the country. We have some of the best contractors, and if you look at the history of wages and you look at the Davis-Bacon Wage Act. This is not a partisan issue, it’s not Democrat, Republican. Davis and Bacon were both Republicans. The president that put it into force, as far as nationwide, as far as the highway system was President Eisenhower building the interstate system, so when you look at it, we’re looking at how do we protect good wages, get jobs done and done correctly, and basically with the best quality of workers you can. How do you have contractors? These were all put in place to make sure that was protected, and basically you have a situation in West Virginia right now, which I would hope you would see. You have an opportunity, we’ve heard labor and business talking and working together, wanting to find adjustments to be made to make this a better piece of legislation. They’re willing to do that. Labor’s gone so far as to put a threshold of $500,000. There’s only three states in the nation that have a threshold that high. They’ve given you, basically every opportunity to work within the highest levels to make sure that we can get jobs done and don’t put a burden on your municipalities or your state jobs as far as contracts we might have. The thing I’m trying to tell you is, seize the opportunity to put something together here that’s good. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. You’ve got everybody wanting to sit down and work together and make something happen that’s going to be good for West Virginia, it’s going to be good for the working people of West Virginia, the contractors and business people of West Virginia most importantly, the tax payers getting the job done with local workers. I think that’s what you have in front of you right now. I would hope you would seize that opportunity. God bless all of you. Don’t let the toxic atmosphere of Washington permeate in West Virginia. We’re better than this.” – U.S. Senator Joe Manchin