Also slated for death by Republicans this morning in Senate Commerce and Energy is Senate Bill 110, economist and Senator Reynold Nesiba’s (D-15/Sioux Falls) proposal for wage fairness for construction workers on state projects.
Unlike President Joe Biden’s policy that now guarantees workers on federal contracts a minimum wage of $16.20 per hour, Nesiba’s SB 110 seeks to guarantee that laborers and mechanics working on contracts on public buildings, highways, or other public works financed wholly or in part by state funds get at least the prevailing wage for their trade or occupation in the county or locality of the project’s labor pool. SB 110 also requires that workers putting in more hours than the prevailing work week get at least time and a half for those additional hours.
SB 110 requires each contracting state agency to research labor market conditions to determine the prevailing wages and hours of labor before they open their contracts for bids. State agencies would also have to report what they find to the Department of Labor and Regulation, which would post the information for each contract at the project site… which I would assume means that wage information would become public record, which means we could make some pretty awesome spreadsheets showing the going rates for workers in South Dakota.
Foreseeing that such investigation will unearth low prevailing wages across South Dakota industries, Section 3 of Senate Bill 110 says the prevailing wage cited in a state contract can not be set lower than “a reasonable and living wage”. Nesiba curiously does not define “reasonable and living wage”, so if SB 109 stood a chance of surviving the anti-labor Republican caucus, it would have to be amended to define a harder floor for those state contract wages. It would also have to clarify whether we want to enforce a minimum living wage based on a single adult with no kids ($14.85/hour in South Dakota, says the MIT Living Wage Calculator, but $15.41 in Minnehaha County and $14.42 to patch Highway 14 in Hyde County), a worker trying to support two kids and a stay-at-home spouse ($33.83/hour statewide, $34.35 in Minnehaha, $33.26 in Hyde), or some other standard, and whether we would dare go as far as to say different workers in different life situations get a different reasonable and living wage.”
Discussing prevailing and living wages would be fun, and making sure workers get them is a moral imperative that the federal government, Minnesota, and 25 other states recognize. But I suspect the Republicans on Senate Commerce and Energy will swiftly ashcan SB 110 and leave South Dakota’s workers falling further behind states that recognize the value of labor.
FYI – the SD DOT projects I’ve worked on over the years have all had prevailing wages posted on the job site(s). In addition, on every one of them a SD DOT employee has surveyed evey worker on the project as their job title and pay rate. Perhaps this was all done due to there being Federal $ involved and required by Federal law, but what SD DOT project does NOT involve Federal $?