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Contractors: Surveys Most Accurate Way to Set West Virginia Prevailing Wage

Some state contractors, including one behind a hotel and condominium complex popular with lawmakers, say West Virginia's prevailing wage should be set with data gleaned from state surveys. Photo credit: Dan Heyman.
Some state contractors, including one behind a hotel and condominium complex popular with lawmakers, say West Virginia's prevailing wage should be set with data gleaned from state surveys. Photo credit: Dan Heyman.
July 6, 2015

WHEELING, W.Va. – West Virginia's prevailing wage should be determined using in-state surveys instead of federal estimates, according to some contractors. The wage law was changed this spring.

Republican lawmakers say the state should now use Bureau of Labor Statistics figures to determine how much to pay construction workers on public projects.

Glenn Jeffries, president of Cornerstone Interiors, just finished a WorkForce West Virginia wage survey. He says the state survey uses actual wage numbers, unlike the more general federal statistics, which are based on a statistical sample. Jeffries adds the federal numbers don't allow for benefits.

"I'm not going to say they're inaccurate, but they don't give you the true construction wage," he says. "The survey will give you the true wages that are being paid."

The Legislature and Governor Earl Ray Tomblin's administration disagree over whether the new law requires using federal wage rates or allows the state to use the survey data. Republican lawmakers say a prevailing wage based on lower federal numbers could reduce building costs on public projects. But several studies have found it could lower quality and raise costs, in part by forcing contractors to cut corners on steps like training and drug testing.

Contractor Kim Carfagna, president and CEO of Jarvis, Downing and Emch in Wheeling, says GOP lawmakers are giving the impression wages are too high. He says they're assuming a construction worker can put in more than 2,000 hours a year – as a regular full-time employee might. But Carfagna says due to weather and irregular employment, they're lucky to work half that.

"If you take the Bureau of Labor Statistics rates and multiply it times those hours, you're putting every one of those craftsmen, basically, below the poverty level," he says.

Thirty-one of 32 states with a prevailing wage use the survey method. The head of the Bureau of Labor Statistics even testified in Congress its figures should not be used to set wages.

A report by the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy found when quality and productivity are factored in, prevailing-wage work in the state costs less than non-prevailing-wage work in neighboring states.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV