JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Sen. Dave Schatz promised that there would be changes to the state’s prevailing wage in 2018, and it looks as if his word will be true.
There had been talk in the final week of the legislative session that a deal was being worked out on the issue, but it wasn’t until late Thursday night that the legislation hit the Senate floor.
Sen. Dan Brown put forward the House Committee Substitute for his 1729, 1621, & 1436, which he explained was a prevailing wage bill seeking a total repeal.
But his motion was quickly followed by a substitute from Schatz and the much-whispered-about compromise was revealed to the chamber. Much negotiations and talks had taken place, with members from both sides of the table fighting through frustration to try and find a deal.
“I realize it’s probably not enough for some, and too much for others,” Schatz said. “I’m not sure that either side is happy.”
“We tried and came up with a compromise that has successfully angered everyone,” Sen. Jake Hummel said.
The compromised language was not a total repeal, but instead laid out more specific criteria for the calculations used to decide the prevailing wage, including a provision that states that unless there is 1,000 reportable hours for that occupation in that locality, then the public works contracting minimum wage would be equal to one hundred twenty percent of the average hourly wage in a particular locality.
The reason for this, Schatz and other Republicans contended, was that in heavily populated areas, like St. Louis County or Jackson County, those areas were dictating the wages in nearby rural areas. The intent of the bill is to make the wages more reflective of their respective localities.
The bill would not impact projects worth less than $75,000. Schatz said that $75,000 threshold would be much higher if he had his way, but called it a starting point. He noted that public bodies could not divide up the work to keep it under that threshold.
“This is not a Democrat or Republican issue. This is a worker’s issue,” Sen. Gina Walsh said on the floor, explaining that the legislation would hurt small contractors and workers.
Hummel spoke, downtrodden, of all the second-guessing, wondering if this was the right path or not. He spoke of the people it would impact, saying that it was not easy.
“It’s hard for me stomach, and I don’t know what to say other than we are continually on the side of getting kicked, and I don’t know when it stops. But I’m getting a little tired of it.”
“They gave up a blank page,” Hummel said, becoming visibly emotional on the floor. “There were negotiations, but they were only on one side.”
But the senator composed himself, agreeing with Sen. Walsh’ assessment that “we may not like the results, and we have to go home and explain it. But when it comes push to shove, it’ll land on our shoulders, and we’ll handle it.”
Sen. John Rizzo spoke with Schatz about his concerns, the chief of which was that it would drag down wages.
“It brings it back from the negotiated rate that is out there,” Schatz said.
“I’m not against fair wages and good benefits,” he continued. “I appreciate what the trade organizations do in training these individuals. But there are people out there who, just because they do not have the training, does not mean they do not have skill.”
And when it came to a vote, the Senate passed the measure out of the chamber with a 22-9 vote. The House took the measure back up on Friday, passing the compromise in a 97-50 vote. The bill now needs the governor’s signature to become law.
Benjamin Peters is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine, and also produces the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined the Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield. To contact Benjamin, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @BenjaminDPeters.