Will Prevailing Wage Hold for Missouri Public Works Projects?

by Melanie Baravik
March 1, 2018

Repeal or reform?

In Jefferson City, Missouri, four bills affecting the state’s prevailing wage law are up for consideration by state legislators. Prevailing wage is the minimum wage for both union and non-union construction workers on public works projects — it’s different depending on the county and the type of work being done. In Missouri, it’s calculated based on the wage information submitted annually to the state by contractors, public agencies and other entities.

Two of the proposed bills in the state Senate, SB 555 and SB 609, would repeal prevailing wage entirely. Two others, SB 599 and SB 688, would reform the law by letting counties decide the issue or by exempting some projects from compliance.

Proponents of ending prevailing wage completely, like SB 555’s sponsor state Sen. Dan Brown, say that it pushes the cost of even simple maintenance “too high for many rural towns and counties.” Some say the law results in project costs far exceeding initial estimates, which “lead[s] to scaling back on projects to save money.” To alleviate the cost inflation on smaller projects, SB 599 proposes exempting projects costing less than $500,000 from the prevailing wage law.

Opposition to repealing or reforming prevailing wage law is just as outspoken. Supporters of prevailing wage say that its elimination would mean lower wages and less-skilled workers on Missouri public works projects. One supporter of leaving the law intact used the outcome of Indiana’s prevailing wage repeal as proof that it would not benefit Missouri. Marc Poulos said, “researchers found that repeal has not opened “doors of opportunity” for more project bidders — as then-Gov. Mike Pence promised when he signed the measure into law — nor has it saved Hoosiers any money on public construction costs.”

What’s happening in the state legislature?

As of this post’s publication, SB 599 and SB 555 have passed through the Senate Committee on General Laws and should be up for discussion and amendment in the coming weeks. SB 555 is a complete repeal of the prevailing wage law, while SB 599 aims for reform. SB 927, another reform bill, remains in committee in the Senate; it would exempt projects costing $25,000 or less from paying prevailing wage. HB 1729, another bill that would repeal prevailing wage, passed through two committees in the state House of Representatives in February.

Given the amount of legislation aimed at prevailing wage reform or repeal, it’s likely that some part of the law will change — but exactly what that will mean for workers on public works projects remains to be seen. Do you think Missouri should repeal or reach a compromise?

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