One observer of the McHenry County Board meeting when a proposed Prevailing Wage Ordinance was rejected 13-10 thought some in the majority might have been encouraged by a previous rejection by the Woodstock City Council.
I thought the Woodstock June 3rd meeting’s minutes might be of interest. They are below:
M[aureen] Larson stated that she went to the Bureau of Labor Statistics which has statistics on every main category of professions. She advised that she looked at the list of prevailing wage ordinance which they are required to pass by law. She stated that Staff has given Council the dire consequences if they fail noting that Council literally has no choice in passing the ordinance. She reported that you look at the wages that are “prevailing” which you would think meant they are common and easy to earn in the real world but it simply is not the case.
M. Larson advised that she looked at the pay for machinists nationwide. She referenced the slide showing the Bureau of Labor Statistics and reviewed the nationwide hourly wage percentile noting that the figure does not include benefits. She reported that the highest paid machinists are in Honolulu, HI. She stated that in Hawaii if they are in the top percentile they make $42.22 an hour.She referenced the line for machinists in the prevailing wage ordinance and advised that we will be paying every machinist regardless of experience, years on the job or level of expertise $43.92 an hour plus $6.76 for insurance, $8.95 an hour for their pensions and a $1.85 toward their vacation for a grand total of $61.48 an hour.
M. Larson noted that these are the rates that Council has to vote on tonight. She stated that you could go through every line and each one is out of whack with the national median and national 90th percentiles. She stated that it is ridiculous and advised that the data being used to arrive at these numbers is a complete mystery to her and how they can say it is prevailing is mind boggling. She asked Staff how much is spent for capital improvements and construction that we contract out.
[City Manager] R[oscoe] Stelford stated that the number is for total capital outlay which includes vehicle and equipment purchases but at least half of it is probably construction dollars; it is 3.9 million dollars. M. Larson stated that it is 3.9 million dollars and we are paying easily 30-50% beyond.
M[ichael] Turner questioned if half of the 3.9 is project cost and R. Stelford affirmed.
M. Turner stated that we are paying 20-30% more on 2 million dollars. He stated that we are paying $400,000- $600,000 more as a municipality that we don’t spend on wages, capital improvements or give back to the tax payers.
M. Larson stated that the tax payers should be outraged but it is so hard to get a handle on it. She stated that it is shrouded in mystery purposely in order for it to continue but the public needs to know that this is unacceptable.
J[oseph] Starzynski questioned why the State gets to tell us what we have to pay.
M. Turner replied because the voters vote the people in who tell us what to do and pass the laws.
J. Starzynski questioned what Jack Franks says about it. R. Schlossberg stated that MCCG tries to chip away at the margins of the prevailing wages and does things like trying to get an exemption for the first $40,000. She noted that every year they chip away at it, and those actions go nowhere.
M[ark] Saladin advised that he has conversations with Pam Althoff who agrees with Council and noted that she was Mayor of McHenry and she knows that this goes nowhere.
[City Attorney] R[uth] Schlossberg stated that there was a major breakthrough this year with emerald ash borer which was devastating people’s budgets and the Department of Labor came out with the ruling that the kind of landscaping work required would not be subject to prevailing wage. She stated that another breakthrough is that you don’t have to send a copy of the ordinance to the Secretary of State’s office anymore.
M. Larson advised that the City is allowed to arrive at its own rates by taking a survey, but it an only survey the people who are currently making prevailing wage. R. Stelford advised that you are only allowed to survey public works projects and those projects by law have to pay prevailing wage.
J. Starzynski questioned if it is an Illinois issue and M. Turner stated that it is other states but not all.
P. Christensen stated that when you use the number for capital improvements some maintenance projects are subject to it so the number is actually worse. M. Turner stated that we are sitting at 2.4 – 2.5 million a year roughly in costs which means we are paying an extra $500,000-$750,000 in higher costs because of this law. P. Christensen stated that consistently you will see the IML try to chip away prevailing wage and pull it back. He stated that next to pension reform for public safety this is the second issue out there to reform and he noted that there is no appetite to touch it and in fact they are always trying to strengthen it.
M. Turner stated that the absurdity of this law is without equal, it is extreme, it is costly and we talk about it every year. He stated that they are powerless to do anything about it but he has a suggestion.
He stated that this does not have to be passed until the second meeting in June and he advised that he will vote no on it. He stated that if Council doesn’t pass it, it sends a message to the voters and lets them do a little act of defiance to the State. He advised that they have the choice through Robert’s Rules of Order to do a motion to reconsider.
He stated that it is bad law and he wants to vote against it and he doesn’t want to put the City at a disadvantage noting that a motion to reconsider if they defeat the ordinance right now will give them the opportunity to vote in two weeks.
M. Saladin questioned the repercussions to the City if they don’t vote in favor of the ordinance permanently. R. Stelford stated that they are required to file by July 15.
R. Schlossberg advised that the City will be hounded by the Department of Labor. She shared her experience in another town and advised that after a few months they decided they were paying more in legal fees and they passed it. She stated that you are responsible for doing this under the statute.
[Finance Director] P[aul] Christensen stated that it doesn’t stop them from having to pay prevailing wage on their projects.
R. Schlossberg stated that it doesn’t stop you from having to pay prevailing wage and they are required under the State statute to notify all the contractors and purchase people that they have to and if you don’t you are liable for the penalties.
In response to J. Starzynski, R. Schlossberg stated that the City is mandated to comply so you might ask why you have to pass an ordinance saying that you are going to comply with a law that you are obligated to comply with but the statute does require it.
M. Turner questioned if there is any practical implication of voting it down with the opportunity to do a passage in two weeks and R. Schlossberg stated that the statute requires that you do it this month.
Motion by M. Larson, second by M. Saladin to approve, as required by State law, an Ordinance establishing Prevailing Wage requirements for the City of Woodstock. A roll call vote was taken.
Ayes: M. Saladin, RB Thompson.
Nays: J. Dillon, M. Larson, J. Starzynski, M. Turner.
Absentees: Mayor Sager.
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At the June 17th Council meeting, the City Council again considered the Prevailing Wage Ordinance. It passed by a 6-1 vote.