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Bill would eliminate Missouri's prevailing wage law

Missouri House Committee on Workforce Standards hears legislation that would eliminate Missouri's prevailing wage for public works projects.
Marshall Griffin | St. Louis Public Radio

Legislation being considered by a Missouri House committee would dump the state's prevailing wage for public works projects.

This base wage is set annually for a variety of jobs. It is calculated using what workers are actually earning. House Bill 1931's sponsor, Rep. Warren Love, R-Osceola, says it would allow contractors to start negotiations for salaries at minimum wage instead.

"That is the lowest that they could pay, but that would be highly unlikely," he told the Committee on Workforce Standards.  "You cannot show me one place in the state of Kansas or the state of Iowa that's built a public works project in the last five years that's paid minimum wage … not gonna happen."

Kansas and Iowa do not have a prevailing wage law. Committee member Jon Carpenter, D-Gladstone, argued that states without a prevailing wage are among the country's poorest and least educated.

"We have states that for decades have been right-to-work states or haven't had prevailing wage laws on the books," he said. "All the data actually says that those states are the poorest, the least educated, the least healthy states in the country, and that's after decades of being right-to-work and not having prevailing wage on the books."

Adam McBride with the Missouri Labor District Council also supports Missouri's prevailing wage law and opposes Love's bill to scrap it.  He was one of several witnesses to testify in opposition.

"You can compete on skill, you can compete on overhead, you can compete on profit, but the one place you can't compete under this law is on how low you can pay your employees," McBride said.  "That's what we're talking about."

Those testifying in favor of eliminating the prevailing wage included Hunter Kevil, a recently retired faculty member from the University of Missouri's Columbia campus.

"Fairness is not fair if it's immoral," Kevil said.  "If prevailing wage is a good thing, if it's right, if it's moral, if it's fair -- it should be for everybody; not just certain trades, but all trades and all industries."

No action was taken on bill Monday.

The House passed a similar measure in 2013, but it died in the Senate.  That same year, Gov. Jay Nixon allowed another bill to become law without his signature that changed the way Missouri's prevailing wage is calculated.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.

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