By Kerry Smith, Editor – St. Louis Construction News & Review Magazine
Several provisions within Missouri’s prevailing wage law have been rolled back via House Bill 1729, signed into law in mid-July by Gov. Mike Parson; contractors and the trades are questioning how the new legislation will be implemented and enforced.
The changes, set to take effect Aug. 28, include a $75,000 threshold for when prevailing wage kicks in, half as many occupational title classifications than before and a cumulative hours reporting requirement to determine whether the law applies county-by-county.
“Even as we talk today, how this entire prevailing wage compromise legislation is going to be implemented and enforced remains to be seen,” said S. M. Wilson Vice President Bill Wagner, current board chairman of the Associated General Contractors of Missouri. “If we called the Missouri Dept. of Labor & Industrial Relations today and asked for a wage determination for a specific county, I’d be amazed if anyone could give us that at this point.”
The simpler law changes include a minimum public-sector project cost of $75,000 for prevailing wage requirements to apply, whereas the Missouri status quo had been that prevailing wage rates were paid on any size public-entity project such as those built for school districts, cities and counties.
Another change spurred by HB 1729, according to Wagner, is that the number of occupational titles – classifications specifying a particular per-hour wage rate – have been reduced from 44 to 20. The previous law delineated specific prevailing wage rates via subcategories under trades such as carpentry, ironworking, plumbing and pipefitting and more. Under the new law effective later this month, the slimmer list of categories relies upon average hourly rates in several crafts’ subcategories that previously had been assigned specific rates.
A more complex provision in the new law, said Wagner, is the 1,000 man-hours annual minimum required in any Missouri county in order for the public-sector project to pay prevailing wage. Where the man-hours minimum will be most relevant, Wagner said, are in the rural Missouri Bootheel counties in the southeastern tip of the state.
“If a trade hasn’t logged at least 1,000 hours of work per year in any particular county, the public entity won’t be required to pay prevailing wage rates,” Wagner said. “The theory behind this is that outbound counties in Missouri were paying more than they could afford to get public projects built. It’s not an issue with urban counties in and around St. Louis and Kansas City (MO) but it is definitely relevant to rural counties that don’t see a lot of public-sector construction work.”
Both union and open shop contractors testified in Jefferson City against a prevailing wage repeal, according to Wagner.
AGC of Missouri President Len Toenjes said the association has been in regular contact with the DOLIR since the new law was enacted. “It seems that they are now moving forward in developing the reporting forms with regard to the new law,” said Toenjes. “Right now we’re relatively hopeful that these forms will be ready in time for contractors to submit their work hours and for the state to issue its wage order in a timely manner.”
Toenjes said although the new prevailing wage law isn’t what the AGCMO would have liked to see in final form, it’s a step in the right direction. “It has preserved prevailing wage in some form, and for that we’re grateful,” Toenjes said.
Bruce Holland, CEO of Holland Construction Services Inc., said the firm performs more than 50 percent of its work in Missouri. But because a lot of the projects are multi-family living communities and include U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development funding, the contractor is already required to pay local prevailing wages under the Davis-Bacon Act, the federal law pertaining to wages for public works projects.
“It’s something we’ve been doing for years, in Missouri and in Illinois and elsewhere,” Holland said. “We’ve had what we consider to be a very productive relationship with the construction trades, so it doesn’t cause us a burden to do the paperwork and comply.”