Republican lawmakers question labor bill's effects on small businesses, employees
At least 10 percent of state-run construction project man hours will be performed by people who live in impoverished areas if a labor-related bill gets the Senate and governor’s approval.
Introduced at the April 26 floor debate by state Rep. Melissa Conyears-Ervin (D-Chicago), HB4513 would require that state-funded construction development employ financially less-fortunate staffers who reside in poverty areas, which will be determined by an annual Department of Central Management Service survey.
Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer (R-Jacksonville) gave a real-life example of how the sponsor's bill seemingly contradicts itself.
He asked if he were a small-business owner who had 10 employees and one of them lived in a poverty-stricken area but after working for him for a few years was able to move to a better area, would he have to fire that person to hire someone the bill mandates he employ.
Conyears-Ervin said the very intent of her legislation is to move people out of poverty. But Davidsmeyer countered, noting his former employee, who worked himself out of poverty and was fired so another less-fortunate employee could take his place, is now unable to find work as the low-man on the totem pole somewhere else.
Davidsmeyer said her bill hurts small businesses and then yielded the rest of his debate time to Rep. Grant Wehrli (R-Naperville), who said the sponsor's bill was counterproductive to her desired goal.
“It misses its target in the regard that it doesn’t do anything to promote business,” Wherli said.
Decreasing regulatory burden is the only way to promote economic growth, according to Wehrli, who said the bill was bad with negative consequences to the economy.
Rep. Keith Wheeler (R-Oswego) stated the case of practicability in the bill text, asking the sponsor to define what the term meant to her. Conyears-Ervin said she wrote the bill with that word so if an agency deems the hire of a poverty-stricken employee is not practical it can defend its position.
Making that happen is easier said than done, according to Wheeler, who said the bill will cause confusion for contractors who will have to question their proposal price based on their own staff payment projections and probable employment cost from a labor hall.
“When you are a contractor bidding a contract, you don’t get to have a relationship with IDOT (Illinois Department of Transportation),” Wheeler said, adding the success of a construction project greatly depends on a veteran staff’s skill set not seen in new hires.
Rep. Peter Breen (R-Lombard) wanted to know the percentage of poverty-stricken staffers in the state, but the sponsor did not know. He then pointed out the “pretty decent sized agencies” rejection of HB4513, including Illinois Department of Transportation and the Capitol Development Board’s opposition.
Though sympathetic to poverty and race-related issues, Breen, like Davidsmeyer, questioned the salary-based demographics, saying someone could retain employment, but if they move across the street they could be ineligible.
“It would be nearly impossible to measure who lives where,” Breen said.
Furthermore, the lack of apprenticeship experience could cause project problems, Breen said.
“We have absolutely no idea what this bill will do,” Breen said.
The bill, which according to Breen is well-intentioned but poorly crafted, passed 61-47 and moves to the Senate for debate and vote.