CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Republican-led state Senate and House of Delegates are poised to pass bills Thursday that make West Virginia a right-to-work state and eliminate the state’s prevailing wage.
The bills have triggered the most intense debate so far this session, pitting Republicans against Democrats and the business community against the labor movement.
Legislation eliminating prevailing wage is expected to pass the Senate on a party-line vote, while House Republican leaders believe they have enough votes to pass right-to-work, but it’s unlikely any Democrats will vote for the bill.
Both bills advanced through amendment stage Wednesday, despite objections from opponents. “The reality is we’re going to lower wages in West Virginia,” said Senator Mike Romano (D-Harrison).
However, Senator Charlie Trump (R-Morgan) said workers on state projects would still make good wages because of their skills. “We have a competitive advantage here because we have the finest and best workers that can found anywhere in America,” said Trump.
The House made changes in the right-to-work bill, so it will have to return to Senate for final approval. The prevailing-wage bill will go directly to the Governor.
Governor Tomblin opposes both bills and is expected to veto them. However, Republican leaders have the votes to override those vetoes.
Under the state’s prevailing wage law Workforce West Virginia determines hourly pay for all job categories on all large projects paid for entirely with taxpayer dollars. Supporters argue that guarantees a living wage for the workers and keeps out-of-state contractors from under bidding by using cheaper labor.
Opponents argue the prevailing wage law artificially raises the price of public projects thereby costing the taxpayers more. They believe the rate of pay should be determined by the free market.
Supporters of right-to-work say it will protect workers from being forced to join a union and, as a result, improve the state’s attractiveness to business. However, opponents argue the measure erodes the rights of workers and will have no impact on the state’s economy.