Undocumented workers play role in prevailing wage discussion

Undocumented workers play role in prevailing wage discussion

Gov. Scott Walker said he’d be pleased if the state budget included a provision to repeal the state’s prevailing wage law, which dictates what construction workers are paid on some government projects.

But he said he’d also be satisfied with significant changes to the requirement as well and continues to work with lawmakers.

The debate on the issue stretches from the Capitol to construction sites where the role of undocumented workers is entering the prevailing wage discussion.

Oscar Galan has been working construction for 15 years. The Honduran native said he’s here legally but he works with many guys who aren’t. He said private projects will pay those workers off the books but government projects can’t do that.

“I know a lot of guys that want to work those jobs and get $25 or $26 an hour, but I mean not everyone has that kind of papers,” Galan said.

Joe Lotegeluaki, of the Regional Council of Carpenters, said repealing prevailing wage could lead to more undocumented workers on projects getting paid less.

“In order to work on a prevailing wage job you need certified payroll, prove that you’re paying benefits to employees and that’s the checks and balances,” Lotegeluaki said.

But the Regional Council of Carpenters helped connect News 3 with Galan, who wants some of the changes rolled back. News 3 asked why they would help us speak with someone who disagreed with their general position on prevailing wage.

“Because what we’re trying to do is showcase that if you take away prevailing wage, you’re going to have out-of-state contractors coming in and taking away jobs from hardworking Wisconsinites, and that’s what we’re trying to stop here,” Lotegeluaki said.

Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, a co-author of the prevailing wage repeal, said a memo prepared by Legislative Council attorneys shows undocumented workers would not be legally allowed under the new law. The memo was asked for after ads said illegal workers could replace Wisconsin workers.

“It does not change those requirements on the types of workers that should be used,” Vukmir said. “We have not changed anything from federal guidelines in the legislation.”

Galan said he believes this repeal, or immigration changes, could help workers like him.

“If the government helps put a new law and we can all get equal work, then let us do those kinds of jobs,” Galan said.

While the governor said he would prefer a full repeal, GOP leaders in both houses of the Legislature have said they don’t have the votes to pass it, but continue to work on “meaningful reforms.”