Indiana House to Consider Common Wage Repeal

INDIANAPOLIS (WOWO): A bill that supporters say would save local governments money but detractors claim is another attack on organized labor is on its way to the full House.

The bill (HB 1019) would repeal the law governing what‘s known as the common construction wage, which uses boards to set construction wages for government projects that cost more than $350,000. Those boards include representatives from labor unions and generally result in higher wages for workers than projects that don‘t use the boards.

The repeal bill was pushed by House Speaker Brian Bosma (R, Indianapolis) and other supporters who say local governments need to find ways to save on construction projects due to revenue constraints from property tax caps.

It was passed by the House Employment, Labor and Pensions Committee 8-to-4 in a party-line vote. The push to repeal the common wage comes three years after the Republican majority in the legislature made Indiana a right-to-work state and has aroused the ire of unions as the right-to-work law did.

The hearing for the bill was also held without the chairman of the House Employment, Labor and Pensions Committee. Rep. Doug Gutwein (R, Francesville) declined to chair the hearing, instead turning it over to committee vice-chairman Tim Harman (R, Bremen).

A spokeswoman for House Republicans denied a report that Gutwein was removed by Republican leadership because he opposed the bill, saying instead he removed himself because he felt the timing for the bill wasn‘t right. Democrats also argued that the bill was rushed through the committee, especially one that would repeal a law that has been in place since the Great Depression. “80 years of labor law, and one committee hearing, and the chairman is not even here, I think we need to at least take this up to next Tuesday,” said Rep. Linda Lawson (D, Hammond). But Harman said time was of the essence, since bills have to be out of committee by Thursday in order to have the chance to pass the full House before the February 25th deadline to send House bills to the Senate. “

There will be ample time throughout the process on second reading and if it moves over to the Senate to voice concerns as well,” Harman said. The arguments for and against the bill are also similar to those for right-to-work. “(Common construction wages) prevent open and fair bidding competition for public construction projects. It establishes a government sanctioned advantage for one set of contractors,” said Kevin Brinegar, president of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, who lobbied for the repeal. But unlike right-to-work, common wages are actually favored by some businesses and contractors who build their business models on the wages.

Some public officials whose governments could save money if the repeal became law argued against it, saying it would hurt middle class workers. “If we can‘t (build public projects) and have a population of individuals who are able to support and utilize the public projects we are creating, then all of that is done for naught,” said Karen Freeman-Wilson, Mayor of Gary.