Scott County Supervisors Debate ‘Going Wage’ for Juvenile Justice Center | Politics and elections

Contractors building the county’s new juvenile detention center may be required to pay a “governing wage,” if a proposal from a Scott County supervisor clears the five-member board.

Board Democrats back a plan that would require contractors to pay an average of what workers in similar jobs in the region earn, called the going wage. But others say supervisors are required by Iowa law to award contracts to the lowest bidder, regardless of what they pay their employees.

The county’s decision will depend on a complex series of state and federal laws that dictate how municipalities can contract with companies on public projects.

Because the Youth Justice & Rehabilitation Center is funded by more than $7 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds, union representatives and the board’s two Democratic supervisors have argued that its construction should follow Davis Act standards. -Bacon, a 1931 law that requires private contractors on federally funded projects to pay at least a certain salary and benefits determined by the Department of Labor. The federal requirements for the funds, however, do not explicitly require governments to meet the standard.

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The US Treasury Department, which sets the rules for how COVID funds can be spent, “encourages” agreements with contractors who adhere to “strict labor standards,” including payment at or below above the prevailing salary. But the Treasury does not require it.

The National Counties Association, in a March presentation on the Treasury’s final rule, said counties must follow prevailing Davis-Bacon wage standards only if they use other federal funds coupled with relief dollars. COVID-19.

Scott County Assistant Attorney Rob Cusack warned supervisors on Tuesday that the Iowa Supreme Court issued a 1993 decision, City of Des Moines v. Master Builders of Iowa’s claim that requiring non-federally funded projects follow a going wage violates state laws that require counties to award contracts to the lowest responsible bidder.

“The requirement that employers ‘offer wages at or above the prevailing rate’ was found by the Iowa Supreme Court to be inconsistent with competitive bidding law and is preempted under ERISA “, wrote Cusack in a memo, referring to the 1974 Employee Retirement Act on income security.

Ryan Drew, a trade representative for International Operating Engineers Local 150, said the difference in amount between contractors with and without unionized workers was marginal compared to the difference in wages and pension benefits that workers might then spend in the community.

“Whoever’s more efficient, whoever has cheaper aggregates or whatever, let them compete on that, but don’t let them compete to exploit workers or cheat them on pension benefits that will make our strong community,” Drew said.

Supervisors are expected to vote Thursday on language that would require the county to award the youth justice and rehabilitation center project to contractors who “pay their laborers and mechanics at least prevailing wage rates and benefits.”

“We want to have the resolve to protect local workers and local taxpayers, who will end up paying these bills,” said Supervisor Ken Croken, a Democrat.

Supervisor Brinson Kinzer, himself a labor representative and a Democrat, said they weren’t asking the county to bid on all projects with the going wage, only those with federal dollars.

“We ask these projects to respect federal dollars by using their language to comply,” he said. “It encourages, doesn’t say, must, it just encourages (us) to do it.”

Supervisory Chairman Ken Beck asked if adopting a wage requirement in place could open the county to legal action from other bidders.

“Couldn’t you expose yourself to legal action from other bidders who said, ‘Yes, we had enough experience, but you arbitrarily put up these artificial barriers which, in the end, cost more money to taxpayers? Beck asked.

“The short answer to your question is ‘yes,'” Cusack replied.

Elna M. Lemons