Construction Industry Leaders Advocate for H.1599 Bill

| September 17, 2019

Submitted by Sheet Metal Workers Local 17

All photos courtesy of 617MediaGroup

Boston – Building trades unions from across the state took to the State House Monday to advocate passage of a bill to close a loophole in the prevailing wage law that exploits working families.

Labor leaders, apprentices, members and retirees from Sheet Metal Workers Local 17, Pipefitters Local 537, Plumbers and Gasfitters Local 12 and other building trades detailed how unscrupulous contractors are skirting the state’s prevailing wage laws to undercut bids and land public contracts by refusing to pay the prevailing wage for pre-fabrication and assembly work that is being done off-site.

“We’re fighting because we’re your neighbors. We work and learn alongside you and your family every day, and we’re invested in our region’s future,” said Russell Bartash, Secretary-Treasurer of Sheet Metal Workers Local 17. “We don’t want to see bad actors driving wages and standards down in our towns.”

The loophole opens the possibility to significant wage gaps, which hurts workers, taxpayers and local businesses.

“There’s no difference between on-site and off-site work. So why should contractors be allowed to pay some workers less?” Brian Kelly, business manager of Pipefitters Local 537, asked. “And why should they be rewarded with lucrative public contracts when they don’t guarantee pay equity for women and people of color?”

“If folks aren’t even paid a prevailing wage – even if it’s a dollar less – we’re hurting honest, local contractors,” echoed John Ferrante, associate executive director of the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors Association. “That’s killing good jobs and businesses here in Massachusetts, and sending taxpayer money to Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Maine. We can do better.”

The speaking program was followed by leaders and members making office visits to their legislators.

The bill, H.1599, sponsored by Tackey Chan (D-Quincy), would close this glaring loophole by mandating the prevailing wage law cover off-site work.

“We can’t wait any longer. It’s not fair for working families, who rely on protections like prevailing wage to pay their rent or put food in their fridge,” said Rep. Chan. “This loophole is single-handedly denying thousands of Massachusetts workers the opportunity to make a decent living.”

Contractors are required to pay, at a minimum, a prevailing wage to workers on public works projects in Massachusetts. Those wages provide fair compensation and ensure quality work without sticker shock. Sometimes, work such as fabrication and assembly is done at a facility away from the construction site. This can minimize disruptions to commuters and taxpayers and ensure that work continues even in bad weather. However, the current prevailing wage law applies only to the women and men who are at the site of final assembly and unfairly excludes workers who are pre-assembling the materials for the public works projects simply because they are doing so away from the primary construction site. H.1599 would help those workers, and level the playing field for honest, local contractors, by requiring contractors to pay prevailing wages for that work, regardless of where it’s performed.

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