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Friday, March 14, 2003

Small Projects Would Be Free From Wage Law

The Associated Press
    SANTA FE A measure to lift the state's prevailing wage law from smaller public works projects was approved by the House.
    The bill would raise from $20,000 to $100,000 the minimum value of publicly funded construction contracts that are subject to the wage law usually referred to as the Little Davis-Bacon Act.
    The law requires employees on eligible public works projects to be paid the prevailing wage in the area, which is effectively union-level pay.
    The bill passed the House 40-24 on Wednesday and was sent to the Senate for consideration.
    The legislation also gives the state Labor Department greater powers to investigate allegations that employers are violating the law. The director of the labor and industrial division, for example, could issue subpoenas to obtain documents or force witnesses to testify at a hearing.
    In addition, the measure would allow employees to bring a lawsuit against a contractor or subcontractor in a public works project for alleged violations of the prevailing wage requirement.
    The bill would increase the damages that could be collected by an employee, permitting them up to three times the amount of underpaid wages. The state or other governmental body involved in a public works project could be held liable for a violation of the prevailing wage law by a contractor.
    Rep. Raymond Ruiz, D-Albuquerque, a sponsor of the bill, said the state, school districts and local governments may save some money on smaller projects because they would not be required to pay the prevailing wage to workers. However, he said workers gained additional rights and protections under the proposal.
    Republicans expressed support for the increase in the contract threshold but objected to other provisions that they said could impose additional burdens on contractors and potentially cause more lawsuits.
    The prevailing wage law has long been the subject of political battles in the Legislature. Former Gov. Gary Johnson, a Republican, unsuccessfully sought to repeal the wage law during his administration. Johnson said the law increased the costs of school construction. Labor unions, a traditional political supporter of Democrats, opposed the repeal.