WOODSTOCK – For a second straight year, the McHenry County Board voted down the prevailing wage in a symbolic gesture to Springfield that carries no weight.
Board members voted Tuesday morning, 11-9, to reject the prevailing wage, which requires local governments to pay workers hired for public construction projects a specific wage set by the Illinois Department of Labor.
State law requires local governments like the County Board to adopt the wage schedule each year.
While there is no penalty for voting to reject it, willingly paying workers less than the prevailing wage is against the law and comes with a Class A misdemeanor for elected officials, as well as fines that would be levied against the government and would be paid by the taxpayers.
Critics on the County Board and other local governments allege the prevailing wage makes public works projects funded by taxpayers much more expensive than they need to be.
“I don’t think it’s prevailing, and I don’t know where [the numbers] come from, aside from the Department of Labor,” board member Tina Hill, R-Woodstock, said.
The County Board has not been alone in rejecting prevailing wage. The Woodstock City Council and the Cary School District 26 Board have voted it down, as well. The McHenry County College Board approved a resolution asking the General Assembly to repeal the law, but stopped short of rejecting the wage out of liability concern should a contractor mistake their “no” vote for a justification to ignore the law.
But this did not mean County Board members who voted “yes” support prevailing wage. Member Carolyn Schofield, R-Crystal Lake, made clear her opposition, but she said she was not comfortable voting against something required by state law.
Support for the wage came from several audience members representing organized labor who said the wage allows them to live in an expensive county and prevents governments from shipping in cheap, unskilled and exploitable labor.
Before the vote, several people also chided board members for wanting to choose what laws they wish to follow.
International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 Business Representative Robert Paddock expressed disappointment with the County Board vote, and he rejected several board members’ criticism that the wage is artificially inflated because of McHenry County’s proximity to Cook County and Chicago.
He also rejected the notion that the board’s vote was meaningless because the board is required to pay the wage regardless.
“It’s not meaningless to the people who live and work in McHenry County,” Paddock said.
The County Board last year attempted to gauge interest among local governments in challenging the local prevailing wage rates, which the law allows via a hearing. But the effort did not go anywhere, said Hill, who was County Board chairwoman at the time.
Illinois passed its prevailing wage law in 1941 as a mechanism to ensure labor disputes did not delay or cease public works projects altogether, and to ensure workers’ jobs were not threatened by itinerant labor. In subsequent years it was meant to protect the wages and benefits of workers from being slashed by employers competitively bidding for government projects.
How they voted
The McHenry County Board voted Tuesday, 11-9, against approving the state prevailing wage.
Voting “no” were Donna Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake; Nick Provenzano, R-McHenry; Michael Rein, R-Woodstock; Michael Walkup, R-Crystal Lake; Chuck Wheeler, R-McHenry; Yvonne Barnes, R-Cary; Diane Evertsen, R-Harvard; Andrew Gasser, R-Fox River Grove; John Hammerand, R-Wonder Lake; James Heisler, R-Crystal Lake; and Tina Hill, R-Woodstock.
Voting “yes” were Mary McCann, R-Woodstock; Anna May Miller, R-Cary; Robert Nowak, R-Lake in the Hills; Carolyn Schofield, R-Crystal Lake; Mike Skala, R-Huntley; Larry Smith, R-Harvard; Michele Aavang, R-Woodstock; Sue Draffkorn, R-Wonder Lake; and Chairman Joe Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake.
Board members Ken Koehler, R-Crystal Lake; Don Kopsell, R-Crystal Lake; Robert Martens Sr., R-Spring Grove; and John Jung, R-Woodstock, were absent.