Legislators Tuesday debated a proposal to keep secret how much workers are paid when they’re hired for publicly funded projects.
Bryan Hoylman, president of Associated Builders and Contractors, argued that making the data available to the public invades workers’ privacy and amounts to revealing proprietary information.
“That information is proprietary and is a trade secret,” Hoylman told a legislative interim committee.
Hoylman said disclosing wages of employees working on publicly funded projects was necessary when state law required contractors to pay state prevailing wages, but isn’t needed since the prevailing wage law was repealed last year.
“Some states that don’t have prevailing wage don’t have certified payroll requirements at all,” he said.
He said competing companies can now use the Freedom of Information Act to obtain wage information on current publicly funded construction projects in hopes of underbidding the contractors on future projects.
“It is our primary concern,” Hoylman said. “You have an ability to delve into the internal costs of that particular company.”
However, Don Smith, executive director of the West Virginia Press Association, said the disclosures — which are required under the West Virginia Jobs Act — are invaluable in uncovering fraud and waste in taxpayer-funded projects.
Smith said ability to access wage information on multi-million dollar projects is critical at a time when the Justice administration is pursuing nearly $3 billion of road construction funding.
“This bill is seeking to hide how a large portion of that money is spent,” he said.
“By restricting this, it makes it impossible for us to do our job,” said Smith, who represents state newspapers.
He cited current headlines regarding a Division of Highways engineer and a Putnam County contractor who were part of a kickback scheme that funneled $1.5 million of projects to a South Carolina company.
While Hoylman said the disclosures amount to an invasion of privacy for workers, whose names, home addresses and wages are listed, Smith said the workers themselves benefit from being able to access that information.
Smith said workers can use the data to verify that the contractor is accurately reporting their wages to the state - “I’m listed at $20 an hour but I’m making $12” — or to see if the company improperly billed for wages on days when work was rained out.
Delegate Mike Caputo, D-Marion, asked Hoylman if he had examples of workers whose privacy was invaded because of the disclosure. Hoylman said he had heard anecdotally about incidents.
“I would think to advance your argument, you would have brought some examples of that,” said Caputo.
During the 2017 regular session, legislation to make the wage information submitted to the Division of Labor under the Jobs Act confidential and not subject to disclosure (SB412) passed the Senate on a mostly party-line 23-11 vote, but was moved off the active House calendar on the final day of the regular session.
Reach Phil Kabler at email@example.com, 304-348-1220 or follow @PhilKabler on Twitter.