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Lawmakers Seek Limits on Wages

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The union rights controversy isn’t confined to Wisconsin or teachers. Newly seated Republican majorities in several budget-strapped states have swung legislative wrecking balls at some of the pillars of the building trades, including prevailing wages and project labor agreements.

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In Ohio, where newly elected Gov. John Kasich (R) has pledged to cut costly regulations, new Republican lawmakers have provided a substantial majority in the state Senate. A bill originating in the Ohio House of Representatives would prohibit state funding on any local government project built under a project labor agreement. On prevailing wages, open-shop contractors are “working with the governor on extending a 1997 ban on prevailing wages for K-12 schools to universities,” says Bryan Williams, government affairs director of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Ohio.

In Indiana, Republican and Democratic lawmakers are negotiating a rise in the threshold at which the state’s prevailing wage law, called a “common wage” law, kicks in. That’s bad news for the state’s 13,000 union laborers, who now work on more than 90% of the state Dept. of Transportation projects. The current threshold is $150,000. Raising it to $1 million would mean union laborers could be excluded from 80% of all transportation projects, says Frank DeGraw, business manager of the Indiana Laborers District Council.

A judge in Wisconsin has temporarily prevented enforcement of a law adopted last month limiting the state’s obligation to bargain with unions to wages. About 550 building trades union members employed directly by the state had ratified a new proposed contract last year, but state lawmakers failed to approve it, says Mark D. Hoffmann, chairman of the Wisconsin State Building Trades. That contract had included a pay freeze and other concessions.

This story was updated to correct the first name of John Kasich.

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