CRYSTAL LAKE – The state’s prevailing wage act is an oppressive law that tells local elected officials how to vote, a McHenry County College trustee said.
The college’s Board of Trustees has joined other McHenry County local governments in opposing the law, which requires local governments to pay workers employed on public construction projects wages typically set by the state Department of Labor.
But the board did not take the step of actually voting down the mandated resolution that sets the wages, a step other area governments, such as the McHenry County Board, the Cary School District 26 Board and the Woodstock City Council, have taken.
Instead, the board passed a resolution that would be sent to area legislators informing them of the board’s position and asking them to repeal the law.
The college could be liable for back pay plus interest, punitive damages and attorney fees if the board had not passed the state-mandated resolution, and a contractor failed to pay the required wages and someone sued, said the board’s attorney, Nanci Rogers.
She added that failing to follow the law also can carry a Class A misdemeanor charge for individual elected officials.
It’s just a “scare tactic,” Trustee Karen Tirio of Woodstock said, a sentiment also voiced by board Secretary Chris Jenner of Cary, who pointed to other local governments that have not passed the resolution and have seen no consequences.
But the majority of the board – five voting members plus the student trustee – overrode the three votes against the required resolution, even though two of the “yes” votes said they don’t agree with the law.
“I oppose the prevailing wage law,” board President Mike Smith of Lakewood said. “Not unlike Trustee [Cynthia] Kisser, however, though I struggle with the concept of, as a fiduciary, breaching our duty and perhaps putting the college at risk by voting against the state law.”
The idea of sending a message to the state Legislature had been proposed by Jenner, who said he opposed the law because it artificially raised the cost of capital improvement projects.
He pointed to the difference between the set wage for McHenry County and the actual median wage for the Chicago metropolitan area, as determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
A stone mason, for instance, would make $41.58 an hour in wages and benefits under the prevailing wage act in McHenry County in 2014, but that same year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the median salary for the same job at $24.54, not including benefits.
An iron worker would make $39.18 an hour in wages and benefits under the prevailing wage law, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the median hourly wage at $42.07.
Trustee Molly Walsh of Crystal Lake said she’s skeptical of the cost savings touted by opponents of the law.
Proponents of the prevailing wage law also argue the law levels the playing field by requiring all contractors to pay workers a living wage, issues that Kisser, of Wonder Lake, said she’s sympathetic to even though she opposed the law.
“I resent the fact that we are dictated to [act] on this by Springfield, by a government that is just so badly running this state and is causing so much headache and is unable to take care of us, and yet it wants to push on us a position that we must take on this issue,” she said.