Reversing a decision made in February, a Fort Wayne Community Schools committee on Monday adopted a non-union construction wage scale for $28 million in improvements to Snider High School.
Three months ago the committee, created under Indiana's “common wage” law, voted 3-2 to establish higher union-level wages on the first $23.7 million in projects funded through the $119 million tax increase approved by voters last year. Monday's 4-1 vote reflected the FWCS Board's decision last month to replace committee appointees attorney Jack Morris and former board member Mitch Sheppard with developers Bill Bean and Zohrab Tazian, both active in Republican politics.
Bean and Tazian voted in favor of the wage scale presented by the Associated Builders and Contractors, which represents non-union “merit” shops. Also supporting the ABC wages were ABC representative Ken Neumeister and County Commissioner appointee and non-union contractor Al McComb. AFL-CIO representative Chris Guerrero voted in favor of the AFL-CIO wages.
Under the law, local governments must establish minimum construction wages on most projects costing more than $350,000. The ABC claims adoption of its wages can reduce the cost of a project between 15 and 30 percent, depending upon the amount of labor involved. On a $28 million project, that would be between $4.2 million and $8.4 million.
FWCS attorney Bill Sweet told the committee either wage scale would pass legal review. But as Bean noted, committee members are supposed to adopt the most “common” wage paid in Allen County regardless of cost to taxpayers.
Neumeister insisted ABC wages do that because most local contractors are non-union. ALF-CIO representative Will Klein, however, argued that wages are more common because collective bargaining agreements pay a uniform salary to workers in specific trades.
Klein also said the ABC's proposed wages represented “hearsay” evidence because they were compiled through anonymous surveys, while union wage scales include specific names of companies and individuals. “But this is a political process,” he added.
The school board's change of course was not unprecedented, however, as it has appointed members who supported ABC wages in the past.
The largest taxpayer-approved projects affected by February's vote included improvements to Memorial Park and Harrison Hill schools. The FWCS Board is expected to award contracts for the Snider project late next month.
But Neumeister said the project is so large that most local merit shops may not be able to handle the work. That may attract non-union bidders from outside Allen County, he added.