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West Virginia Prevailing Wage Law Under Attack

Construction Workers

West Virginia’s prevailing wage law has been a target of a handful of state lawmakers for some time, including as recently as last year (see Senate Bill 360, which died in committee). With a Republican majority coming on board this month, this idea may finally get the traction it needs to move forward and change the law. Several bills have already been introduced into the current session dealing with this section of the law, including SB 100 and HB 2273; each measure is currently residing in the Judiciary committee in its respective house.

The prevailing wage law requires that workers on public construction projects receive a wage corresponding to the prevailing (average) wage on construction projects in the area, including benefits and overtime. This rate is established by the West Virginia Division of Labor based on an annual survey of contractors. Many states have had prevailing wage laws on the books for decades. Most of these laws are modeled after the federal Davis-Bacon Act, which was first enacted in 1931, and applies to federal public works projects.

Proponents of the change say it will create jobs in West Virginia by allowing the free market to set wages rather than having an artificial inflation of wages imposed by the state. Clearly this means that wages on public works projects will go down without the prevailing wage law. In other words, more jobs may be created, but the workers performing them will get paid less than they did in the past. Opponents of the change say the prevailing wage law keeps companies from undercutting their competitors in the bid process by hiring less-skilled laborers, which could lead to substandard work, cost overruns, and safety concerns.

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