Prevailing wage laws are receiving more scrutiny in this legislative session than they have for years, due in large measure to the State Senate’s “Majority Coaltion” that elevated Sen. Janéa Holmquist-Newbry (R-13) to Commerce and Labor Committee Chair.
The sheer number of prevailing wage bills – some to reform it, some to expand it – suggests that there is widespread discontent with its current state. AGC’s primary message to the Legislature is one of support for the original scope of prevailing wage laws, trimming the years-in-the-making mission creep.
“We believe the underlying policy of prevailing wage was to provide stability within the marketplace and to ensure a certain level of worker competence,” testified AGC Legislative Council Van Collins at a Commerce and Labor Committee hearing. “Unfortunately the application of our prevailing wage laws today goes well beyond its original purpose and as a result, the system has become overburdened, too complex and inefficient.”
A few Supreme Court cases spurred the expansion of prevailing wages. Most notably, the Silverstreak decision required prevailing wages to be paid to truck drivers who deliver fill material directly to where it will be incorporated into the project. The Everett Concrete case incorporated off-site fabrication of “custom” items into prevailing wage.
AGC is supporting a variety of reform measures, particularly Substitute Senate Bill 5684. This bill rolls back the expansion of prevailing wages to the delivery of materials, thus addressing the Silverstreak decision. (The original version of the bill would have also removed the prevailing wage requirements for off-site custom prefab work, which AGC would have supported, but that provision was dropped.)
"We believe this bill represents a discussion whose time has come," testified Collins. "It is time to reexamine our prevailing wage system, to look at its core functions, and to reiterate its original intent. In doing so, the Legislature will simplify the system, add efficiency, reduce conflicts, and strengthen the L&I's ability to ensure compliance."
SSB 5684 was passed by the Committee and awaits action by the full Senate. Committee member voting in favor were Sens. Holmquist Newbry, Braun, Hewitt, and King; voting no were Sens. Conway, Hasegawa and Keiser.
Prevailing wage reform bills will have a hard time passing the State House of Representatives, but the fact that they have received this much attention suggests that the first step has been taken in what may be a process that extends into the next legislative session.
Some other prevailing wage bills supported by AGC:
• SSB 5686: Requires L&I to provide surveys to contractors renewing their registration or license and prevents the contractor from bidding on a public works project unless the surveys are submitted to L&I within 60 days. The intent is to increase the number of completed wage surveys so that the prevailing wage better matches the local market.
• SB 5685: Requires L&I to better disseminate information about its prevailing wage determinations, such as including a statement on every intent that uses a classification that may be impacted by a determination regarding the existence of determinations affecting that classification. The intent is to provide more certainty to contractors regarding appropriate prevailing wages.
Among prevailing wage bills opposed by AGC:
• HB 1025: Extends apprenticeship quotas and prevailing wages to some private projects.
For more information about prevailing wage bills, contact AGC Legislative Council Van Collins, 360-352-5000.