Prevailing wage bill clears the Senate

Construction workers discuss safety
The Washington State Senate approved SB 5493, which would simplify how the state sets prevailing wages for certain trades. Photo: Maxpixel

The Washington state Senate has approved a bill which would specify how prevailing wages must be set. Although the majority of lawmakers are supportive of SB 5493, one voiced concern that the legislation would not improve the process for rural counties.

Under state law, hourly wages for workers constructing or maintaining public buildings may not be lower than the prevailing wage in the location for the same hourly work. The prevailing wage includes the hourly wage rate, benefits and overtime paid. The rates are set by the Department of Labor and Industries’ (L&I) industrial statistician, who may conduct wage and hour surveys to determine and set those wage rates.

Under the new proposal, L&I’s industrial statistician would adopt prevailing wage rates based on the local jurisdiction for occupations that include collective bargaining agreements. If there are multiple collective bargaining agreements in one location, the higher rate will be used. In trades without those agreements, the L&I industrial statistician must conduct wage and hour surveys to set the prevailing rate of wage in that county.

The bill’s prime sponsor is State Sen. Steve Conway (D-29), and its cosponsors include State Sens. Bob Hasegawa (D-11), Mark Miloscia (R-30) and Karen Keiser (D-33).

During February 12 Senate floor debate, most lawmakers agreed the change would simplify the process of surveying for prevailing wages.

Sen. Conway told colleagues that prevailing wage surveys have “always been a problem.”

“This particular approach simplifies the process. Eight other states are using this process, and it adds cost efficiency for the Department.”

Conway added that he was impressed that many contractors have indicated the bill would be a move in the right direction.

State Sen. Curtis King (R-14) agreed the bill allows for an important change.

“We have worked this bill to allow prevailing wages to be set in as a fair and equitable manner as we can.”

However, State Sen. John Braun (R-20) rose in opposition to the legislation, citing concern with how the bill would affect rural counties, particularly those that do not have collective bargaining agreements.

“I think we made a lot of progress, and I am very hopeful we will continue to make progress in the other chamber, but I don’t think it’s quite there now. I think it holds rural counties at a little bit of a disadvantage.”

On January 22, the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee elected to send the bill to Rules. On February 12, the Senate approved the measure in a 32-15 floor vote, with two excused. The legislation is not currently scheduled for a public hearing in the House.

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