Prevailing wage fight blooms on Kane County Board

Drew Frasz didn't like not having a chance to vote on a resolution fully supporting Gov. Bruce Rauner's turnaround agenda. Now the Elburn Republican is taking a more vocal stand, and he's recruiting his fellow Kane County Board members to support one of Rauner's main agenda items - reforming the state's prevailing wage requirements.

Frasz, a nonunion contractor, was the most vocal opponent on the county board to proposals in 2013 and 2014 that called for would-be county contractors to participate in training and apprenticeship programs approved by the U.S. Department of Labor. Frasz said that gave an unfair advantage to union labor because unions almost exclusively provide such training.

Now, having grudgingly supported a watered-down Kane County resolution calling for reform in Springfield in May, Frasz is urging his colleagues to cast at least a symbolic vote rejecting the entire state prevailing wage law. On Friday, he gained at least three supporters during a meeting of the Kane County Forest Preserve Commission's executive committee. County board members also serve as forest preserve commissioners.

"Private industry, private homeowners, developers all have the advantage of being able to go to the open market when it comes to bidding jobs," Frasz said. "But when it comes to county and governmental work, taxpayers are forced to pay top-of-the-line, premium pricing on projects. It drives the costs up 15 percent, and sometimes a lot more than that."

Frasz said the state's prevailing wage rates are directly tied to union pay scales, which he deemed "the highest possible rate."

"The law is not really a middle-class support system," Frasz said. "It's a union support system."

Fellow Republican John Hoscheit said he's seen direct examples of the taxpayers paying more for work than they otherwise would if not for the prevailing wage law. He pointed to the remodeling of the forest preserve district's headquarters as an example.

"I received calls from a nonunion contractor," Hoscheit said. "He was a qualified contractor willing to do the job for less, but he had to increase his bid because he had to pay employees who would have otherwise received a lesser amount."

Hoscheit ultimately voted in favor of approving the new prevailing wage rates in committee. State law requires governmental bodies to adopt the rates no matter what. But Frasz did persuade fellow Republican commissioners Maggie Auger, T.R. Smith and Barb Wojnicki to vote "no."

Cristina Castro, a Democrat, was the lone commissioner to speak in favor of the prevailing wage.

"It's not about unions," Castro said. "There is nothing wrong with paying a fair day's labor whether they are union or not. Lowest bidder is not always better. We have seen a lot of lowest bidders, at the county level and here, where we've had to fix their mistakes."

The full forest preserve commission and full county board are set to vote on prevailing wage ordinances next Tuesday.

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