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.
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.