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Kentucky Republicans Pass Right-To-Work, Dropping The Hammer On Unions

By Dave Jamelson and Travis Waldron
01/07/2017 12:06 pm ET

Organized labor suffered its first major legislative setback due to the 2016 elections on Saturday, when Kentucky Republicans gave final approval to right-to-work legislation and repealed the state’s prevailing wage law. Both bills are expected to be signed into law by the governor, and will take effect immediately.

Kentucky is the last holdout in the South without an anti-union right-to-work law on the books. For decades, labor unions and Democrats fended off such measures, which diminish union membership and weaken the labor movement. But when Republicans captured the state House in November, they paved the way for passage of the legislation. The law will apply to all new labor contracts, but will not affect current agreements.

Unions and Democrats mounted a last-ditch effort to stop the legislation this week, holding protests at the state capitol building in Frankfort saying the bills would drive down wages. But Republicans now have overwhelming control of both the state Senate and the House. Kentucky’s governor, Matt Bevin, is a Republican who won office in 2015.

“They’re cutting workers’ pay,” Bill Finn, state director of the Kentucky State Building and Construction Trades Council, told The Huffington Post this week. “People voted for a change in this election, but they didn’t vote for this. They didn’t vote for pay cuts.”

Right-to-work laws forbid contracts that require all workers in a particular bargaining unit to pay fees to a union. Under U.S. labor law, a union must represent all employees in a unionized workplace, even those who may not want representation. Unions argue it’s only fair that all workers share the costs of bargaining and maintaining the union contract.

By allowing individual workers to opt out of paying union fees while benefiting from representation ― an arrangement unions call “free riding” ― right-to-work laws can drive down membership and weaken unions financially and politically. The conservatives who push right-to-work laws argue that they assure workers’ individual freedoms by not compelling anyone to support a union.

Labor leaders were equally troubled by the legislature’s move to gut the state’s prevailing wage law. Such laws require that employers pay certain minimum wages on work funded by public money. Backers of the laws say they help make sure companies accepting taxpayer dollars don’t drive down wages and working conditions. Opponents argue they inflate the cost of public works projects.

The repeal means prevailing wages will no longer apply to construction workers building schools and government buildings.

Charlie Essex, the financial secretary for Local 369 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Louisville, called the measure “an attack on union people.” He estimated that the prevailing wage law applied to more than 30 percent of union construction work in Kentucky.

Backed by business lobbies, Republican lawmakers around the country have been aggressive in pushing right-to-work bills and prevailing wage repeals in recent years. When Democrats lose control of a statehouse chamber or the governor’s mansion, they are often powerless to stop them.

Long confined to the South and West, right-to-work proponents have recently made inroads elsewhere in the country, including even the industrial Midwest. Since 2012, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and West Virginia have all gone right-to-work. Kentucky will be the 27th such state, making it more the norm than the exception around the country.

Kentucky Republicans Poised To Pass Right-To-Work Law, Delivering Blow To Unions

By Travis Waldron and Dave Jaimeson
01/04/2017 03:58 pm ET

Kentucky Republicans opened 2017 by introducing a slate of anti-union bills in both chambers of the state legislature, including legislation that would make the state the last in the South to adopt a so-called “right-to-work” law.

Targeting unions has been a priority for the Kentucky GOP in past years, though Democratic control of the governor’s seat and state House kept right-to-work and other legislation from passing. But Gov. Matt Bevin (R) won election in 2015, and Republicans swept their way to their first majority in the state House in nearly a century in November, paving the way for an ambitious agenda with right-to-work at the top of the list.

The proposed right-to-work bills, the first of which a state House committee approved Wednesday after a brief hearing, would end requirements that employees pay fees to a union. These bills would gut Kentucky’s unions politically and hurt their workers, local labor officials said.

“First of all, when you pass right-to-work you’re racing to the bottom in terms of wages,” said Larry Clark, a retired union electrician and Louisville Democrat who served as speaker pro tempore in the Kentucky House before he stepped down in 2014. “Statistics show that there’s less per capita family income. Statistics show there’s less tax revenue because there’s less money spent.”

Under U.S. labor law, a union must represent all the employees in a workplace it has unionized, even those who may not want representation. Unions say it’s only fair that all the workers in the bargaining unit pay fees to the union to cover the costs of bargaining.

But right-to-work laws make such arrangements illegal, allowing workers to opt out of paying fees to a union that will nevertheless represent them ― a situation that unions derisively call “free riding.” Backers of right-to-work laws argue that no worker should be required to support a union, even if it bargains on his behalf.

By helping to erode union membership, right-to-work laws hurt unions financially and weaken them (and, by extension, Democrats) politically. Right-to-work laws used to be a hallmark of conservative states in the South and West, but they have spread rapidly in recent years, even in the industrial Midwest. Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and West Virginia have all gone right-to-work since 2012. West Virginia was the 26th state to pass such a law, marking a symbolic turning point for right-to-work proponents.

F. Vincent Vernuccio, the labor policy director at the Mackinac Center, a conservative think tank that supports right-to-work efforts, said he expects Kentucky Republicans to move quickly after their success in the November elections. Vernuccio said Missouri and New Hampshire could follow Kentucky this year.

“We may see up to 29 [states] before the spring,” Vernuccio said. “You’re definitely seeing a snowball effect, and more and more states are looking to give workers freedom.”

Kentucky, home to organized industrial plants for Ford and General Electric, among other companies, had held back the tide prior to last year’s elections. The state had nearly 200,000 union members in 2015, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Counter to national trends, its share of workers represented by unions has risen in recent years. And ahead of a Wednesday committee hearing, critics of the legislation pointed to data which they said showed that Kentucky’s manufacturing sector had outperformed neighboring Indiana’s since Indiana approved a right-to-work law in 2012.

But now, union officials in Kentucky say the package of legislation introduced Tuesday amounts to an even stronger attack on unions than laws passed in other states.

The House right-to-work legislation, for instance, would prohibit public sector workers from striking, while similar legislation in the Senate would prevent private sector unions from devoting union dues to political causes like political action committees.

A separate bill in the House, meanwhile, would repeal Kentucky’s prevailing wage law that applies to state construction contracts. That bill also passed a House committee Wednesday afternoon.

“It’s devastating,” said Charlie Essex, the business manager and financial secretary for Local 369 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, based in Louisville. “It’s a blatant attack on union people.”

While right-to-work has been a contentious issue across states, leaders from Kentucky’s construction unions are just as concerned about the repeal of the prevailing wage laws, which apply to between 30 and 40 percent of union construction work in the state, Essex said.

Such laws require that companies bidding on public works projects pay certain minimum wages to the workers employed on the resulting jobs. Unions say the laws are crucial to prevent bidders from driving down wages in the local economy.

Republicans have in the past argued that prevailing wage laws lead to unnecessary cost increases under state contracts, a point that union leaders have disputed. In 2001, the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission examined a period when the state’s prevailing wage law did not apply in certain circumstances and “concluded that prevailing wage has no statistically significant effect on construction cost,” with some caveats.

Clark said that repealing the prevailing wage provisions ― which some studies have shown lead to higher-than-median wages for the Kentucky workers subject to them ― will have a detrimental effect on apprenticeship and job training programs that businesses and unions rely on. The combination of changes, labor leaders said, would also hurt workers’ wages.

“They’re cutting workers’ pay through right-to-work and prevailing wage in Kentucky. That’s what we’re doing,” said Bill Finn, state director of the Kentucky State Building and Construction Trades Council. “People voted for a change in this election, but they didn’t vote for this. They didn’t vote for pay cuts.”

More than 100 union members and activists gathered near the state Capitol on Wednesday, with plans to testify against the legislation in a last-ditch effort to stop it.

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Indiana Interim Study Committee Reviews Payroll Fraud Issue

Yesterday the Indiana Interim Study Committee on Employment and Labor heard testimony from construction contractors on the issue of#payrollfraud. Contractors asked the Indiana Legislature to consider options to investigate and prosecute businesses who break the law and steal from taxpayers. Stay tuned for actions the legislature takes to stop cheating businesses from robbing taxpayers of $400 million/year and raising costs on law-abiding business.

2015 Omnibus Bill Includes Delay on ‘Cadillac Tax’ So Families with Healthcare in US are Protected for Now

Members of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters (UBC) and participants in other employer sponsored health care plans in the U.S. can rest a little easier now that implementation of the “Cadillac tax” on those benefits has been delayed until 2020. This provision was included in the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill that was signed into law by President Obama. The House of Representatives passed the bill on a 316-113 vote, while the U.S. Senate passed it 65-33.

It is hoped that this delay in implementing the Cadillac tax, which would impose a 40% excise tax on the portion of group health plan premiums that exceed $10,200 for single coverage and $27,500 for family coverage, will lead to a full repeal down the road.

“When people take a closer look at the so-called Cadillac tax, they see how unfair it is for employers and employees,” said UBC General President Douglas J. McCarron. “We have been working hard with law makers and this two-year delay helps us on our way to a full repeal.”

Read this article here.

Ashland contractor cited $117K over police station project wages

SAM BONACCI

Ashland subcontractor On-Time Construction Services, Inc. and its owner Jonatas Vicente De Brito Barcelos have been cited $117,082 in restitution and penalties for intentionally violating the Massachusetts prevailing wage law and failing to submit true and accurate payroll records, Attorney General Maura Healey announced Monday.

The allegations stem from a project at the Acushnet Police Station for which On-Time was a subcontractor, according to a release from the AG’s office that began an investigation last July into the situation.

The investigation revealed that at various times between March and August of last year, On-Time failed to pay three workers the correct prevailing wage rate, according to the AG’s office. One worker was not paid any wages until after the investigation commenced. On-Time also certified on a weekly basis to the awarding authority that its workers were paid the prevailing wage rate even though they were not. Under the Massachusetts Prevailing Wage Law, contractors and subcontractors engaged in public construction projects must pay their employees a special minimum wage, according to the AG’s office.

Since the investigation began, On-Time has paid $78,987 in restitution to the employees.

Click here for the full article.

Ludlow contractor fined for not paying employees prevailing wage

By Kristen LinnartzPublished: July 13, 2016, 12:38 pm  Updated: July 13, 2016, 1:48 pm

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LUDLOW, Mass. (WWLP) – Attorney General Maura Healey announced on Tuesday that a Ludlow contractor has agreed to pay more than $27,000 in restitution and penalties for violating the Massachusetts prevailing wage law.

SSR Construction, Inc. and its owner Peter Slivka accepted two civil citations and agreed to pay $27,387.20 in restitution and penalties to resolve allegations that they were not paying their workers the required prevailing wage rate and failed to submit true and accurate certified payroll records to the awarding authority on a weekly basis.

“Contractors working on public projects must pay their workers a fair wage,” said Attorney General Healey. “The prevailing wage law protects workers and we will continue to enforce the law and hold accountable companies who fail to adequately compensate their workers.”

The Attorney General’s Fair Labor Division started investigating Slivka and SSR Construction in January of 2014 after receiving a complaint that they were not paying their workers the required prevailing wage rate. During their investigation, they found that between September 4, 2013 and December 6, 2013 SSR Construction performed work on a project to renovate the City Hall in Westfield and failed to pay its workers the correct prevailing wage rate. It also didn’t submit true and accurate certified payroll records to the awarding authority on a weekly basis.

Through the settlement with the Attorney General’s Office, four employees will receive restitution payments.