Washington Supreme Court ruling could boost the cost of public works

The Washington Supreme Court has reversed a lower court to find the state’s latest prevailing wage law constitutional.

The statute “requires the industrial statistician” at the Washington Department of Labor and Industries “to adopt the prevailing wage from whichever collective bargaining agreement (CBA) covering work in a particular county has the highest wages, if such a CBA exists,” said the court in its decision Thursday.

Several groups of builders and contractors had brought suit, claiming the law, passed in 2018 by the Washington Legislature, was “an unconstitutional delegation of legislative authority.” The trial court found for the government, the appeals court for the builders, and now the state’s highest court has reversed that decision.

Previously, L&I could look at several different metrics to calculate the prevailing wage, which is the hourly wage the government requires contractors to pay their workers. The new law changed that and likely increased costs in the process.

Andrew Villeneuve, founder of the Northwest Progressive Institute, cheered the ruling.

“This welcome decision confirms that the Legislature followed the Constitution in its efforts to shore up our prevailing wage system, which has been beneficial to Washington workers,” he told The Center Square in an email. “We thank the Court for its thoughtful resolution of the case.”

He explained, “The purpose of SSB 5493, which passed with bipartisan support in the 2018 session, was to improve our prevailing wage system. The law directs the Department of Labor & Industries to establish prevailing wage rates, and provides that if there are no applicable collective bargaining agreements to base those rates off of, the department’s industrial statistician shall establish the prevailing rate either by conducting wage and hour surveys or other appropriate methods.”

The Association of General Contractors had “challenged the constitutionality of SSB 5493, contending the Legislature overstepped its authority when it adopted this law. But as the Supreme Court has made clear, the Legislature did not overstep,” Villeneuve said.

Read the full article on The Center Square.