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Laborers Furious as PA GOP Attempts to Tie Prevailing Wage Repeal to Infrastructure Spending

Pennsylvania’s broken record budget battle — in which the GOP is holding much needed infrastructure spending hostage in exchange for slashing wage protections — has laborers fuming. The State House is 30 votes shy of being able to pass a gas tax hike needed to fund the infrastructure and transportation plan, so Republicans are attaching a prevailing wage repeal to the legislation in order to earn conservative votes.  

For union laborer Keith Toner, who belongs to Local 1180 in Harrisburg, prevailing wage repeal would mean immediate financial jeopardy:

“I get tired of them taking from the working man,” Toner said. “These administrators get paid by the taxpayers. How do they expect me to afford my taxes if they cut my pay?”

According to the Department of Labor, laborers in rural Pennsylvania make between $17 and $25 an hour. He told the Tribune-Democrat that without prevailing wage standards he would be forced to travel to find suitable work. He is also none too pleased knowing his tax dollars are going towards lobbying efforts against the prevailing wage. Among the groups most active in lobbying for prevailing wage repeals in Pennsylvania are taxpayer-funded organizations representing municipalities and school boards, according to the Tribune-Democrat:

…the Pennsylvania School Boards Association received $4.25 million in dues payments from local school boards in 2012. The Pennsylvania State Association for Township Supervisors received $1.13 million in dues from local governments in 2011.

But only a fraction of that money goes for lobbying, said David Sanko, executive director of the township supervisors association.

Lobbying disclosure records filed with the state Department of State show the school board association claims it spent $71,675 on lobbying in the most recent 12-month period on file. The township supervisors group spent $56,186 on lobbying in the same period.

“I’m not going to suggest we don’t lobby,” Sanko said. That money includes all of the organization’s lobbying efforts, not just those focusing on prevailing wage, Sanko said.

“We focus on pro-taxpayer legislation and keeping the cost of government down,” he said. “It would misleading and inaccurate to suggest that we are focusing on attacking the working man.”

The association represents 1,445 townships, all but 100 of the townships in the state.

Prevailing wages are often mislabeled “union wages” — when in fact they protect workers across the industry no matter their affiliation. They also promote quality work which saves money by obstructing fly-by-night contractors and repairs to shoddy work down the line. As Frank Sirriani, president of the Pennsylvania Building and Construction Trades Council, explains, “The prevailing wage is ultimately intended to help keep spending on construction wages in Pennsylvania. Without prevailing wage, there is a risk that out-of-state contractors will win jobs by hiring low-wage, poorly-trained workers.”

The infrastructure spending package, complete with prevailing wage repeal, could come to a vote as early as this week. All previous attempts to change Pennsylvania’s prevailing wage thresholds have failed.

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