In what some Kane County construction workers may view as a strike at their local unions, county board members erased part of a provision that sets guaranteed hourly wage rates for all laborers, workers and mechanics employed on local government projects.
The county board on Tuesday debated an addition to its annual prevailing wage ordinance that may become state law anyway once the Illinois General Assembly reconvenes. The proposed change would force contractors bidding on projects paid for entirely by local government funds to participate in a U.S. Department of Labor training and apprenticeship program. Such contractors are already required to participate in the program on projects involving state funds. Democrats, and unions supporting the law change, said the idea is to ensure there is a well-trained local workforce. But to Republicans, local unions are often, though not necessarily, the gateway to the very training programs the legislation pushes.
County board member Drew Frasz, who owns a landscaping business, said forcing all contractors to have or participate in elaborate training programs will kill small and nonunion businesses.
"The unions have outstanding training facilities. That's well known. But we also have to think of the small Kane County contractors," Frasz said. "Just because you're not involved in this (training program) doesn't mean that you don't do any training and you're a substandard contractor. (The unions) need these provisions to force employees into the unions. If you want Kane County to go the way of the state of Illinois, support this."
Brian Dahl, vice president of the Fox Valley Building & Construction Trades Council, said the training provision isn't about unions; it's about ensuring only contractors with truly qualified workers get government projects.
"This helps guarantee that bidders will be responsible," Dahl said. "And it helps eliminate unscrupulous and irresponsible contractors who submit bids that are artificially low because they intend to violate the prevailing wage or use erroneous classification of apprentices."
Dahl had the backing of all the Democratic county board members who said encouraging companies to put employees through training and apprenticeships can actually save the government money on projects. Apprentices are typically paid lower hourly wages during their training period.
That argument lured one Republican county board member, Mike Kenyon, to favor the provision. But not enough of his colleagues followed.
The training provision was erased following 11-13 vote against putting it back into the county's prevailing wage ordinance.
But this may not be the end of the issue for the county. If state lawmakers write the training provision into Illinois' prevailing wage law, then the county will take another, mostly symbolic, vote to adopt the state law later this year or early in 2014.