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Merit shop contractors oppose Prevailing Wage amendment, say it will hurt smaller shops

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   A bill that stalled in the Illinois Senate’s House Labor and Commerce Committee at session’s end is merely procedural, union contractors say, in recognizing them for the apprenticeship programs they already provide. Those advocating for small open and merit shops, however, say the reporting requirements inherent in HB 924 could put them out of business.
   The bill amends the Illinois Prevailing Wage Act to require that all contractors and subcontractors bidding on work meet the Illinois Procurement Code’s definition of a “responsible bidder.” To qualify as a responsible bidder, these workers would have to meet a series of requirements.
   Alicia Martin, president of the Illinois chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, a statewide trade association, says one requirement in particular may well increase costs for existing contractors and subs, and may reduce the overall pool of bidders - the requirement mandating that a contractor have an employee participating in a U.S. Dept. of Labor-registered apprenticeship training program.
   “We’re actively opposed to this bill, as are many township and municipal officials, the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, the Illinois Black Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business,” said Martin. “If HB 924 becomes law, small businesses will either be forced to offer training, bid only on non-government jobs or leave the state. This bill eliminates competition and it hurts minority contractors because the majority of minority contractors are not signatory to a construction trade union,” she added.
   While bordering states are backing away from public sector union domination, Illinois would move in the opposite direction with the passage of legislation like HB 924, says Martin, by requiring private contractors to provide apprenticeship training programs for journeymen employees who have been performing work successfully in the trades for years. Most small, non-union construction businesses do not have the funds to establish apprenticeship programs, she says. “The big guys can comply with requirements like these and union contractors are compliant simply by their collective bargaining agreement, not because they have someone enrolled in training,” Martin said. “Many of our smaller contractors are out there swinging the hammer themselves. They’ve been performing work safely and successfully for years now. And after five years, they’re considered a journeyman, so the apprenticeship requirement doesn’t even make sense for them. Many merit shop firms do train their workers, just not through the regimented apprenticeship programs based on the union’s model,” she added.
   The Illinois House passed HB 924 on April 18. Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Collinsville), bill co-sponsor, says that since legislators passed a responsible bidder measure for public-sector transportation projects several years ago, there have been significantly fewer incidents of contractors failing to meet performance criteria.
   “Since that time, more than 100 counties and municipalities have followed the state’s lead in passing similar legislation,” Hoffman said. “It’s an initiative that has proved to work well on the state level.”
   Mark Strawn, lobbyist and consultant with the Associated General Contractors of Illinois - an association of all-union contractors - says HB 924’s scope is specific in nature.
   “This bill is really quite narrow,” said Strawn. “It will call for the reporting, but that’s by the public owner - the Illinois Dept. of Transportation, the Capital Development Board and the Toll Highway Authority - who will be required to report to the General Assembly annually the number of minorities used on the job. That information comes from existing reports that contractors file on their certified payroll and monthly utilization reports.”
   Tim Garvey, executive director of the Southern Illinois Builders Association, says HB 924 doesn’t really have a major impact from his group’s perspective.
   “But for someone who is representing existing employers, they may have an issue with it,” said Garvey. “Jay Hoffman was very helpful working with our industry in achieving a fair compromise. He recognized what we were already doing.”
   Joe McCoy, legislative director at the Illinois Municipal League, made this statement in reference to HB 924: “It imposes financial burdens on contractors that will essentially disqualify many of them from being eligible to bid on public works projects. The consequence will be less competition, fewer bids and higher costs to local governments and taxpayers.”
   The Illinois Municipal League is a statewide organization representing more than 1,100 local communities throughout Illinois.