In the latest post to his blog, In the Mailbox, Joplin Globe reporter Joe Hadsall addresses the failure of Rep. Marilyn Ruestman, R-Joplin, to get her bill to stop the requirement that school districts follow prevailing wage through the General Assembly.
In his post, Hadsall notes what both sides of the issue should explain when it is raised again during the 2008 legislative session, as Ms. Ruestman says it will be:
~ Proponents of the bill, especially school districts, should explain how contractors can build a quality product without the quality-guarantee of which construction unions boast. These are publicly-funded school buildings that will house a community's children, so the highest quality is paramount. Having trained workers is a no-brainer, but how does a school district convince its patrons that only trained employees worked on a school?
~ Opponents of the bill need to explain why prevailing wage is so important. Not every school district can raise the millions needed to build a quality building through property taxes and bonding. Smaller school districts see buildings in Arkansas and Kansas -- built by the same companies that build schools in Missouri -- and wonder why they have to pay so much more in wages.
One of the biggest problems cited with prevailing wage over the years is that southwest Missouri projects end up paying the prevailing wage for the Kansas City and St. Louis areas.
This is not a new issue. I examined the effect of prevailing wage during stories when I was at the Lamar Democrat in the 1980s and The Carthage Press during the 1990s. It was easy for school, county, and city officials to show me the effect prevailing wage had on their projects, but it did not answer my question- Why should southwest Missouri projects have to pay the prevailing wage charged in Missouri's metropolitan areas.
I can't recall the name of the official, and I no longer have the articles I wrote on the subject, but I vividly recollect the impression I had that this guy was simply going through the motions, and did not care if the figures he had were actually reflective of the area's prevailing wage.
How did he come up with the figures?
He mailed out long questionnaires for area contractors to fill out. He never got any of them back, never followed up on them, and eventually just submitted a prevailing wage from an area where the union workers had the time and inclination to fill out the paperwork.
"Why didn't you just call the contractors and ask them the questions?" I asked. The man, who obviously was ticked off that I even had the nerve to ask him such a question, replied, "That's not my job."
Prevailing wage serves an important purpose, and while I have no problem with school district building projects costing less, shouldn't our legislators find out first how much of a difference an accurate prevailing wage would make?
Otherwise, it makes it appear that this is just another attempt for our legislators to attack unions.