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Ohio House GOP again seeks to weaken prevailing wage law

Jake Zuckerman, Ohio Capital Journal

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The state House of Representatives, where most Republicans decline to wear masks or practice social distancing. (Photo: Ohio Capital Journal)

Twelve House Republicans reignited efforts to rollback Ohio’s prevailing wage law, which requires governments to pay union-scale wages on most construction projects.

The lead sponsors, GOP Reps. Craig Riedel and Susan Manchester, presented legislation to a House committee Wednesday that would allow various government entities to opt out from the requirements of Ohio’s prevailing wage law.

It also doubles the minimum cost for a project at which the prevailing wage requirement kicks in from $250,000 to $500,000.

Ohio Republicans for years have sought to repeal or weaken the law — drawing support from business groups and developers and scorn from labor unions.

Prevailing wage has been law for nearly a century in Ohio. In 1997 however, lawmakers exempted school construction projects from the law. Supporters say the law ensures fair wages for workers on government-funded projects. The higher wages, they say, pay for themselves by ensuring better workmanship.

Speaking to the House Commerce and Labor Committee on Wednesday, Manchester referred to the proposal as a “cost saving measure.” Reidel said prevailing wage laws are the “opposite of free market principles.”

As part of his unusual, Democrat-backed ascent to House Speaker in 2018, Rep. Larry Householder, R-Glenford, reportedly told unions he would oppose anti-labor policies like “right-to-work” or a prevailing wage repeal in exchange for votes.

Householder is now under indictment in an alleged $61 million corruption scheme channeled through the Speaker’s office (several alleged coconspirators have pleaded guilty). This scuttles some of the political calculus.

In a call with reporters Wednesday, current House Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima, declined to take any position on the bill.

“It will go to committee, we’ll have some hearings on it, weigh the pros and the cons, and decide then,” he said.

Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, himself introduced a rollback of Ohio’s prevailing wage law as a rank-and-file member in 2017. However, he said to reporters Wednesday its chances in the Senate are poor.

“I would be very surprised if it gained any traction in the Senate,” he said.

The prevailing wage law requires builders who win government contracts to pay wages set by a collective bargaining agreement (CBA). If no CBA exists in a locality, the wage is set to the nearest locality’s CBA.

Research on the subject is mixed. Five years after lawmakers exempted school construction from prevailing wage, the nonpartisan Ohio Legislative Service Commission (which analyzes policy for lawmakers) found “indications” of nearly $490 million in savings during the post-exemption period.

However, separate findings from researchers at both Bowling Green State University and Ohio State University (the sponsors said they were unaware of the OSU study) undercut the LSC’s findings, finding no statistically significant savings during the period.


This story was republished from the Ohio Capital Journal under a Creative Commons license.

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