Staffing at the Illinois Department of Labor is about the same as it’s been for years, but funding has plummeted, according to information from legislative sources. However, two unionists who work closely with prevailing wage issues see a slowdown and attribute deteriorating service to regular workers as less about resources than management there.
Dane Simpson of the Midwest Region Foundation for Fair Contracting and Matt Bartolo of Laborers Local 165 of the Great Plains Laborers’ District Council both blame Gov. Bruce Rauner and state Department of Labor (IDOL) administrators such as Paul Kersey, one-time director of Labor Policy at the conservative Illinois Policy Institute, which has ties to the right-wing Koch brothers.
The state’s Prevailing Wage Act requires contractors to pay their county’s prevailing wage on public-works projects so taxpayer-funded work doesn’t exploit local workers or undercut local contractors.
When affected workers, the public, or unions report suspected violations, enforcing the law relies on IDOL action. Its full-time staff has dropped since 2011 – from 96 to 93 (3.1 percent), according to data from the legislature. However, general-revenue state funding this year ($200,000) is 3 percent of what it was in FY 2015 ($6,741,500). (Not 3 percent lower – 3 percent.) It was zero last year, when there was no state budget because of the stalemate. Last year, counting federal money and court-mandated funds, IDOL’s total budget was $6,424,,400, about half the funding of the previous year ($12,635,500). The general-revenue request for FY 2018 ($5,903,700) is 12.4 percent lower than FY 2015 (again, $6,741,500).
“The vast majority of workers that are affected by Prevailing Wage violations are non-union employees,” said Bartolo. “These workers are some of the most vulnerable in the construction industry and are being stolen from on a daily basis. Organized labor has been very successful in identifying the projects in which non-union workers are being underpaid. In those cases, labor/management watchdog groups file Prevailing Wage violations on behalf of non-union workers in hopes of getting back-pay for the workers and to level the playing field for law-abiding contractors who pay their employees the appropriate wage.
“We were always viewed as a resource to IDOL,” he continued. “Our investigative work was always appreciated. We had the same goals and objectives: protecting workers.”
“Prior administrators at IDOL had a 90-day turnaround goal,” Simpson said. “That is gone. A majority of the IDOL’s cases we have filed are greater than six months old. The IDOL also used to issue a letter of acknowledgement, which would inform the complainant who your complaint had been assigned to and the conciliator’s contact information. That has stopped.”
He offered examples.
“One case was filed over a year ago,” he said. “I still have not received an acknowledgement letter, but I have talked to the conciliator it was assigned to. The case still has not been audited and is in limbo due to staff restructuring. This was a very black-and-white case where workers are owed a sizable amount of back wages.
“Other cases I have are with a cheated worker [who] worked on multiple prevailing wage projects where his employer paid him cash for 40 hours per week regardless if he worked 12-hour days or weekends, where overtime would come into play,” added Simpson, who’s worked with the foundation for 13 years. “These cases have been filed with the IDOL since June of 2016 and [there’s] still no outcome from IDOL.
“For the most part, the conciliators that we deal with on a regular basis are still there,” Simpson said. “However, their roles have changed. Instead of the conciliators being used for Prevailing Wage enforcement and audits, those workers are being utilized for ascertaining the Prevailing Wage rates and scrutinizing unions’ rates and benefits: pension, training and health and welfare.”
“I speculate that the foot-dragging is not on the part of the conciliators but by the management, like Paul Kersey,” he said. “Most of the conciliators are wanting to get cases assigned to them so they can do their job. Those cases just are not leaving Kersey’s desk.”
Now Manager of IDOL’s Conciliation and Mediation Division, Kersey in 2013 wrote an Illinois Policy Institute paper, “Unions take advantage of Illinois’ Prevailing Wage law” in which he said, “Illinois doesn’t need the Prevailing Wage law.”
And now he’s a manager who’s supposed to enforce that law.
“From day one, this administration has demonstrated its position on tearing down anything related to Prevailing Wage,” Bartolo said. “So it seems consistent to not only disparage Prevailing Wage, but more importantly for workers, not enforce it.”