A bill that would require a "prevailing wage" for those who work on most taxpayer-funded construction projects in Iowa was debated tonight in the statehouse. A public hearing attracted about 50 speakers, including a number of union leaders.
"This proposal is not a new one," said Ken Sager, president of the Iowa Federation of Labor. "The federal government has required prevailing wage on cosntruction projects, as do five of the six states around us."
Jason Barton-Norris of Cedar Rapids, a member of the Carpenters Union, told legislators the state is currently engaged in a "race to the bottom."
"The current, lowest-bidder statute places the state in the position of actively driving down wages and benefits in our communities," he said. "By distorting the market, not only does this attract contractors that bid on the basi of who can pay the lowest wage, but forces state administrators to accept bids from out of town or out of state contractors."
But business groups and local governments oppose the bill. Andy Warren, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, was among those who argued "prevailing wages" for city, county and school district construction projects will push property taxes higher, and push more businesses out of the state. "Regardless of the implied benefits," Warren said, "this bill will cause Iowa to lose more jobs."
Mike Webster is chairman of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Iowa, which represents about 5000 businesses. Webster also registered his complaint with the concept. "As an employer, I know first-hand how setting the wages of individual employees is a decision that is personalized based on their performance. It is not something that can be simplified and set by a government agency," Webster said. "I reward my reliable, hard-working employees with higher wages. This legislation interferes with an employer’s ability to make these decisions."
After the two-hour public hearing, a House committee was to begin debating the bill at 9:30 p.m.