More than 200 labor union workers converged outside the Nevada Legislature Wednesday to protest an Assembly Republican effort that changes prevailing wage laws in the Silver State.
The demonstration coincided with the Assembly government affairs committee meeting on AB318 — and participants had been waiting a year since the legislation was drafted to fight it.
“If you didn’t have prevailing wages, you’d have low skilled workers and you’d have shoddy work,” said Victor Patrick, 58, a steel worker who travelled from Las Vegas for the protest. “This bill is just ridiculous.”
For current, taxpayer-funded public works projects, the state must pay a prevailing wage and certain benefits for projects over $100,000. This bill changes that threshold to $1.5 million.
Prevailing wage is an industry minimum wage set by the state labor commissioner each year. In addition to the set wage, public workers are due certain benefits under the prevailing wage laws; those benefits vary by industry.
“When you go below the prevailing wage you can’t survive on that salary,” said Al Martinez, a lobbyist for We Are Nevada. He added that without prevailing wages the state will likely get poor quality work. “Taking away the prevailing wage is going to affect everything.”
The bill also allows workers to work more than eight hours per day without overtime pay, so long as their weekly hours don’t exceed 40.
Raising the threshold when prevailing wages kick in would allow schools in Nevada to do more repairs at lower costs, and the money would be used more efficiently, said Assemblyman Pat Hickey, R-Reno and a primary sponsor of the bill.
“The construction business, and I am part of that group, is looking for more jobs,” Hickey said. “General contractors will bid in a way to get their workers paid and still get the job done.”
Ohio recently suspended prevailing wages on school projects for two years, and the results didn’t match up with many of the fears protesters expressed Wednesday, he added.
“The work came back with the same quality as before,” Hickey said. “And we don’t think changing the prevailing wage takes money directly out of the union workers’ pockets.”
Opponents of the measure cited a recent study from the University of Nevada, Reno, that says there is a minimal decline in wages in states that repeal prevailing wage laws, but that the notion of big savings on projects was not verifiable.
“Those opposed to prevailing wage have yet to be able to define the savings that they claim would be incurred through its elimination,” said Danny Thompson, a lobbyist for the Nevada State AFL-CIO. “This study blows holes in all those claims.”