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Pennsylvania Democrats: GOP Prevailing Wage Bills Would Hurt Middle Class Workers

Pennsylvania House Democratic leadership is blasting Republican-sponsored legislation to weaken the state's prevailing wage law, which ensures fair compensation for workers on publicly funded projects.

"From my standpoint, the package of bills is designed to reduce working people's, workers' wages and benefits, at the expense of, I would think, quality workmanship and good projects, good middle-class jobs," said House Minority Leader Frank Dermody. "I don't see this as progress in any manner. It is an assault, really, on working people."

Six bills to amend the 1961 Prevailing Wage Act passed the House Labor & Industry Committee Monday on the strength of a party-line decision, with a full House vote expected this fall.

The law currently requires municipalities to pay "prevailing wages" to laborers who work on any publicly subsidized construction project costing more than $25,000. The payment rate is determined by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry for each project.

"What that means is usually, you've got qualified union workers that have gone through an apprenticeship program in their trades, and are highly trained, qualified workers that are paid health care benefits, a pension, and an hourly wage that is a living wage," said Dermody.

Two of the bills are aimed at making the wage law an option for local governments and school districts, rather than a requirement.

Other legislation would increase the project threshold for the Prevailing Wage Act from $25,000 to $185,000, with an annual inflation adjustment. Another bill would require that a project be at least 51% publicly funded for it to apply under the law.

Republicans argue that Pennsylvania taxpayers would save money under the amendments.

But Dermody, an Allegheny County Democrat, said he doesn't buy the GOP claim that changing the law would encourage more construction projects.

"The prevailing wage has not prevented projects from moving forward," said Dermody. "What happens is also, you'll find that these projects come in on time and under budget, when they're done with qualified union workers being paid a prevailing wage."

With a Republican governor and a GOP majority in both chambers of the General Assembly, it seems likely that the package will pass this fall unless Democrats can win over some of their colleagues across the aisle.