For more than three decades, New Hampshire has been the lone New England state lacking a prevailing wage law. But after voters in November’s elections sent labor-friendly majorities to the state’s Legislature, IBEW members in the Granite State are hopeful that such a statute could finally be making a comeback.
|Dover, N.H., Local 490 Business Manager Denis Beaudoin testified in favor of S.B. 271, a bill to bring back a prevailing wage on state-backed public works projects, during a recent New Hampshire Senate committee hearing.
“In the 23 states that don’t have prevailing wage laws, our members and signatory contractors are routinely losing out on work,” said International President Lonnie Stephenson. “It’s unfair to let low-bid competitors win jobs by not paying workers what they’re worth, especially when those projects are funded by taxpayers.”
Fortunately, New Hampshire’s Senate Bill 271 is an IBEW-backed measure that’s gaining momentum to fix that.
“S.B. 271 would give our contractors a level playing field,” said Dover, N.H., Local 490 Business Manager Denis Beaudoin, who spoke in favor of the bill at a state Senate committee hearing in February. “I think on state-funded projects, taxpayers deserve to have the job done right the first time, on time and under budget.”
Under the proposed measure, workers on state-backed public works projects would be guaranteed wages and benefits that are on par with those enjoyed by employees on similar private-sector jobs and projects nearby.
“We don’t want to go anywhere else to achieve our pay and benefits,” Beaudoin said. “We’d rather stay in New Hampshire to earn them.”
If passed, the new law would function in much the same way as the Davis-Bacon Act does for federally-funded public works projects in the U.S.
“The construction market conditions and trends are clear and indisputable: lowest-bid procurement policy, along with little regulation and compliance, has all but destroyed a once vital and respected blue-collar industry,” said Joe Casey, an international representative for business development in the Second District.
“Prevailing wage delivers many positive impacts to local communities earned through the laborers of our workforce, while agendas of suppression slowly destroy communities,” he said. “Everyday citizens need to know how prevailing wage affects them, how it could boost their own pay and benefits.”
Ever since New Hampshire’s prevailing wage was repealed in 1985, wages, benefits and interest in the building trades in the state have steadily declined, Casey said. And because neighboring Massachusetts does have a prevailing wage law, its booming economy and construction industry make it worth the commute for New Hampshire workers looking for jobs.
“Construction workers in Massachusetts easily makes 20 percent to 30 percent more,” he said. “The impact on New Hampshire’s construction work has been devastating.”
Beaudoin said that his state’s lack of a prevailing wage law also attracts out-of-state contractors to bid on and win projects there because they are allowed to pay lower wages and paltry, if any, benefits.
There have been several unsuccessful attempts over the years to reinstate a prevailing wage law in New Hampshire, but recent shifts in the political landscape there have given working people a reason to be encouraged that this effort could stick.
“We beat back right-to-work,” Beaudoin said, pointing to a major recent win for working people. In 2017, thanks in part to intense lobbying by members of the IBEW and other building trades, a bill that called for allowing New Hampshire workers to opt out of paying union membership dues while still enjoying the full benefits of a negotiated contract failed in both houses of what was then a GOP-controlled Legislature.
Last November, progressive majorities were elected to the state’s House of Representatives and Senate, although Chris Sununu, a Republican, was elected to a second two-year term as governor.
Almost immediately after the new legislative session began in January, S.B. 271 was introduced by State Sen. Dan Feltes, a longtime IBEW supporter, and was co-sponsored by nine Democrats and one Republican. One of the Democrats is the IBEW’s own Sen. Kevin Cavanaugh, a member of Manchester, N.H., Local 2320 who is serving his second term representing the state’s 16th Senate District.
“The building trades in New Hampshire, including us at the IBEW, prioritized the passage of a prevailing wage bill in this legislative session,” Beaudoin said.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the effort to bring back the law has garnered some resistance from the usual detractors. A letter to the editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader from the head of the Associated Builders and Contractors, for example, was full of misrepresentations about compliance and documentation provisions, Beaudoin said.
Even so, the New Hampshire Senate passed S.B. 271 on March 14, and while it awaits likely passage in the House later this spring, its fate beyond that is less certain.
“We’re working hard now to get a meeting with the governor to talk with him about it,” Beaudoin said.
Governor Sununu could choose to sign it, to allow it to become law without his signature or to veto it. And even with the labor-friendly majorities in the state’s House and Senate, reaching the needed two-thirds majorities in both chambers to override a veto could be an uphill battle.
“Time and again, we’ve seen how a prevailing wage can help all working people support their families with fair pay and quality benefits,” said International President Stephenson. “Our members need to light up their representatives’ phone lines and write letters to the editor of their local newspapers to make sure Granite Staters understand how bringing back the prevailing wage will benefit all workers there.”