Toy construction workers
Patrick Ishmael

Back in February I noted that Missouri would not be alone in its pursuit of pro-growth construction labor reforms this year. Specifically, reform-minded Wisconsin declared early this year its intent to pass a bevy of such proposals, in particular significant rewrites of its prevailing wage and project labor agreement (PLA) laws. (You can find more information about each of these reform ideas here.) Those legislative priorities put Wisconsin and Missouri in direct, albeit friendly, competition to see who would be the first to advance taxpayer interests in these policy spaces.

Well, Missouri is falling behind in that race. Like Missouri, Wisconsin's prevailing wage reforms are still being debated today, but earlier this March PLA reforms passed out of the Wisconsin assembly and on to Governor Scott Walker. Our think tank colleague in Wisconsin, the MacIver Institute, has a video account of the debate.

For those familiar with the discussion so far in Missouri, the terms of Wisconsin's PLA debate will sound familiar.

The bill's supporters say it will encourage more construction firms to bid on projects, leading to taxpayer savings. Opponents say it is part of a continued effort to weaken labor unions and would put worker safety and wages at risk.

"We’re saying let the market decide, let employers decide," [Rep. Rob] Hutton told reporters before the vote. "This is really just to clarify and get the government out of the business of determining whether a project labor agreement is necessary."

The benefit of moving away from PLAs is twofold. The first is the benefit to taxpayers being able to spend less and get more for their money, as PLAs tend to push up the cost of public construction. But the second is nearly as important: to ensure that contractors, union and not, are treated on equal footing when they bid these public projects.

Fortunately and in furtherance of both ends, a version of PLA reform is moving its way through the Missouri House after passage in the state Senate. Chances seem very good that PLA reform will happen this year, and paired with a prevailing wage reform that just passed out of the House, reform in construction labor appears to be on the way in our state. Missouri may not beat Wisconsin to the post on these reforms, but so long as the state gets there by session's end, it's all the same to us. Nonetheless, vigilance remains necessary, especially given the legislative drag being experienced in the upper chamber; we'll keep you updated.

About the Author

Patrick Ishmael

Patrick Ishmael is the director of government accountability at the Show-Me Institute.