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July 24, 2017
Laborers win significant battle to protect Illinois prevailing wages
Updated On: Jul 01, 2017

Thanks to two legal actions by the Midwest Region Laborers (LIUNA), Illinois construction workers hopefully will have their prevailing wage rates again current with state and local governments.

Illinois has a prevailing wage law to make sure that workers are paid fairly and equally and that work is performed efficiently.  It requires the Illinois Department of Labor (IDOL) to determine in June of each year and in each Illinois county, the construction rate of pay that is being paid in the locality on work performed by the state, school boards, cities, townships – and to annually post the prevailing wage rate for the entire state by county.  Any construction contractor using public funds must then pay those prevailing wages.   For most of Illinois, those rates reflect union negotiated wage, benefits and training rates.  The law also helps local union workers because all workers must be paid the same rate, so that contractors will have no incentive to bring in out of state workers who are paid less for their work.

In 2016, Governor Bruce Rauner’s IDOL did not post updated rates by the July 15 deadline but instead froze the lower, 2015 rates in place.  While IDOL had established, standard forms for contractors and unions to submit each year, showing the wages they were paying, IDOL refused to accept these forms from unions and contractors.  Instead IDOL insisted they would only accept new computerized forms which the lawsuits allege violated the Prevailing Wage Act.

Ultimately, The Illinois Department of Labor did not post 2016 rates. Thus, governmental contracts let during 2016 only required 2015 rates paid, which put union contractors and union workers at a disadvantage.

With continued stalling from the IDOL, the Midwest Region LIUNA took action; they filed suit in Chicago, and were later joined by the Great Lakes Laborers’ and the Chicago District Council, challenging the IDOL’s refusal to post 2016’s updated rates.  On Friday, May 19, the Midwest Region Laborers won a writ of mandamus, requiring the IDOL to post updates 2016 rates by May 26. A writ of mandamus is a court order that told IDOL to do its job – post the updated 2016 rates that should have been posted in July of 2016.

This mandamus will bring wage rates current to 2016, but what about 2017?

The three Midwest Laborers district councils: Great Plains Laborers, Southern & Central Illinois Laborers and the Southwestern Illinois Laborers, filed a St Clair County lawsuit to make sure the new 2017 rates are properly filed by July 15, 2017.  On June 9, the judge indicated that Illinois workers’ rights to be paid county prevailing rates was important, that the actions of IDOL were arbitrary and capricious, and that he would issue an injunction requiring the IDOL to follow the law for the 2017 prevailing wage setting.   The injunction issued by the Judge requires the IDOL to return to the “status quo,” that is, the way the IDOL has traditionally ascertained and posted wage rates, and force IDOL to set the new rate prevailing in each county by July 15, 2017.

In presenting their case, the Laborers alleged that the IDOL did the following:

* Refused to accept contractor wage rate documents in 2016, on the form that IDOL had posted on its website.  The IDOL claimed that it now wanted these forms filed via computer and refused to accepted paper documents;

* The IDOL for years had a construction classification system that it used to determine rates for each construction trade; the IDOL instead wanted to use a federal classification, that would blur craft lines and could lead to lower rates;

* That an IDOL employee who was to determine wages, had written a paper in 2007 in Michigan, suggesting that using federal classification codes was a route to defeating prevailing wage laws and creating lower wages;

* The Illinois prevailing wage law says that wages should be ascertained based on work performed on publicly-funded construction only.  The IDOL collected data on private work, specifically soliciting data from non-union Associated Builders & Contractors (ABC) companies; which could circumvent the state statute.

The St. Clair County injunction requires the IDOL to return to the “status quo,” that is, using the same forms, work classification and systems it used to determine the wages correctly in 2015.

“This is a great victory,” said Laborers International Vice-President John Penn.  “Upholding prevailing wage is the foundation for decent wages, benefits and training for Illinois workers.  The Rauner Administration tried to stall this process and undercut workers’ livelihood and the fair bidding system for contractors, hopefully these two court rulings will again return Illinois workers to their full wages on public projects.”

by Mike Matejka, Great Plains Laborers District Council - LECET


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