Missouri lawmakers propose suspending prevailing wage rules after disasters

Thursday, December 29, 2011 | 4:54 p.m. CST; updated 6:34 p.m. CST, Thursday, December 29, 2011

JOPLIN — Several southwestern Missouri Republican lawmakers are proposing legislation that would allow communities to exempt themselves from some wage requirements while rebuilding after natural disasters.

The Joplin Globe reported the measure would let school districts, counties and cities to vote to suspend prevailing wage requirements for construction work needed to repair or replace structures and infrastructure. The suspension of wage requirements could be applied in disaster areas declared by the governor but not in St. Louis city or Kansas City. Officials that opt to suspend the wage rules would need to notify the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.

Prevailing wage requirements have attracted the attention of Missouri officials as rebuilding continues in Joplin, which was hit by a May 22 tornado that killed 161 people and destroyed thousands of structures.

Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a Republican, earlier this year pushed for the Missouri Housing Development Commission to stop following federal prevailing wage requirements so the agency could finance the construction of more new houses and apartments. The state housing agency has committed about $100 million in tax credits and loans over the coming decade for low-to-moderate-income rental units and single-family, owner-occupied homes in the Joplin area.

The agency's plan requires workers on state-subsidized projects to be paid the federal prevailing wage, a rate typically used for federally funded public works projects. But a Sept. 30 revision of the federal rates increased the prevailing wage for a carpenter in Joplin from $7.98 per hour to $21.47, plus $12.65 in benefits. The hourly wage for a roofer rose from $7.25 to $21.30 with $8.08 in benefits.

Kinder serves on the state housing commission, but his proposal was rejected when no other commissioner agreed to second his motion after learning that a change could delay by at least six months construction projects already in line for state tax credits and low-interest loans.

The lieutenant governor joined lawmakers in announcing the proposed legislation.

"This is very limited," Kinder said. "It's not an attack on labor."

Representatives from building trade unions have defended the prevailing wage requirements. They said higher wages attract better candidates who can produce more while lower wages could hamper the recovery for many families who lost jobs or homes.

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