On January 27, 2016 the West Virginia House of Delegates voted 55-44 to repeal the state prevailing wage. Eight House Republicans voted alongside Democrats in opposition of repeal. The bill now moves to the Senate for approval.
Prevailing wage laws require construction workers be paid a certain wage and benefit rate on public construction projects to ensure fair competition and to support a highly skilled and trained workforce. Numerous peer reviewed studies over the past 10 years have concluded that prevailing wage does not drastically raise the cost of public construction and protects workers by employing contractors with better safety standards.
Supporters of the bill cite taxpayer savings as a primary reason for their support, claiming that the elimination of prevailing wage will boost economic growth. There is little empirical evidence available to support these cost savings claims.
Delegate Isaac Sponaugle (D) condemned House Republicans for “fast tracking” the bill without evaluating potential economic impacts. His motion to perform an economic impact study was rejected in a vote of 38-61, with Republican delegates advocating an economic study after the prevailing wage is repealed. The House did not consider a Democratic appeal to get rid of the wage for only five years and then study the effects.
The likely outcome of a bill like this will be to decrease workers’ wages. Without wage protections, employers will surely reduce compensation in an effort to promote low road business interest. This will result in less money in the workers pocket and the erosion of a skilled construction labor force.
Democratic Governor Earl Ray Tomblin will likely veto the legislation. However, West Virginia Republican legislators only need a simple majority and enough time to override the veto. The Senate GOP’s majority stands at 18-16, which creates a high likelihood of an override, and as a result the repeal of prevailing wage.
Federal construction projects will still be covered by the federal prevailing wage.