Mo. senator says unions manipulate prevailing wage

The leader of the Missouri Senate on Wednesday accused the state labor department of improperly working with unions to manipulate wages paid on public works projects.

The state calculates an annual “prevailing wage” for various construction trades in each county based on surveys of wages already paid on jobs. During Senate debate on legislation to modify the state’s prevailing wage laws, Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer passed out copies of emails between officials from several labor unions and a prevailing wage analyst at the labor department.

“After looking over several pieces of these documents, it seems to me that the department and the different labor groups actually are in collusion” to manipulate wage rates in some counties, said Mayer, R-Dexter.

Some of the emails show union officials asking department employee Brenda Hentges how many hours had been reported to the survey for specific trades in several counties. They also asked for details about which contractor had reported the hours and what projects those hours were related to.

But others, Mayer said, show the department makes an extra effort to include union-reported hours in the annual calculation of prevailing wage rates.

In one exchange on Feb. 8, an official from the Kansas City-based Builders’ Association emailed Hentges with the number of hours worked at certain wages.

“Attached are the hours for December 2011. As in the previous email I sent we are still getting in late hours,” the official wrote. “When will the preliminary report be done? Sorry to be a pain I guess I just got really spoiled when Jim was”

“Jim” apparently refers to another labor department employee who used to receive such emails.

A few minutes later that same day, Hentges wrote back to say that no preliminary report would be issued. Instead only a final report would be issued.

“If the hours make a impact we will do everything to get the hours entered,” she wrote.

In an interview later Wednesday, Mayer said he defines collusion as: “a secret agreement between two or more persons for a fraudulent or deceitful purpose.”

None of the emails show or refer to any explicit agreement between the department and the unions. But Mayer said there may be an unofficial agreement, even if it isn’t spelled out in the emails he distributed.

He said the labor department wants to include more hours from unions than from non-union contractors so that the prevailing wage rates more closely resemble union wage rates.

“That’s not the way that part was set up to function and certainly not the way prevailing wage laws were set up to function,” Mayer said.

In an email Wednesday to The Associated Press, labor department spokeswoman Amy Susan did not directly respond to questions about Mayer’s accusations about collusion. She said: “Information submitted for the annual wage survey is public information and the department provides that information to anyone that requests it.”

Mayer said in an interview that he did not know if any non-union contractors had requested similar information from the labor department.

The emails Mayer distributed showed officials from multiple unions contacting Hentges. Messages left by the AP with several of those unions were not returned Wednesday. One official reached by the AP declined to comment.


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