School board supports prevailing wage change

Resolution backs increase in threshold; bill remains short of GOP support

By Mike McGann, Editor,

Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board members suggested Monday night that eliminating Prevailing Wage might have saved the district $6 milllion on the current high school renovation project.

PENNSBURY — Add the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District to the chorus of local governmental bodies that support a state legislative initiative to rework the state’s prevailing wage rules.

The state’s current Prevailing Wage law requires any public project costing more than $25,000 to require contractors to pay the prevailing wage for a given region, typically the standard wages for union labor in the Philadelphia region. The threshold for the rules kicking is has not changed since 1961.

The board, Monday night, unanimously passed a resolution supporting State House Bill 1329, which would raise the threshold to $185,000.

“This has been a long-time issue that adds about 10% to the cost of capital projects,” board member Jeff Hellrung said, in offering the resolution. Without any prevailing wage law, Hellrung said that estimates suggest that the current high school renovation project would have cots about $6 million less to complete.

Member Kathleen Do cited the history of the original laws, which harken back to the Great Depression when the northeast region was doing comparatively better than other parts of the country and workers would migrate to the area, offering to undercut local workers’ wages. Prevailing wage was intended to stop that practice, she noted, although she expressed her support for the resolution, other than objecting to the word “modest” to describe what she called a 700% increase in the threshold.

Other members suggested that while they supported the resolution, the entire prevailing wage concept is flawed and should be thrown out.

“Prevailing wage should be entirely replaced,” member Keith Knauss said.

“We need the free market to determine wages,” member Jeff Lesier said.

Member Victor Dupuis, in voicing his support for the resolution, noted that all HB 1329 does is account for inflation since 1961 and provides for future increases based on inflation.

The board voted 8-0 to support the resolution and pass it on the area’s legislative representatives.

The bill, who counts among its sponsors, State Rep. Chris Ross (R-158, who represents the western side of the school district), has been unable to muster enough Republican support, as an estimated 10 to 15 Philadelphia-area state representatives have not signed on. State Rep. Steve Barrar (R-160, who represents the eastern side of the district) is said to be among them, and recently offered an amendment to the bill that would phase in the changes, starting with a raise of the threshold to $50,000.

House GOP leaders, as of this week, still don’t have the votes to pass the measure.

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