Utilizing the first state budget surplus in seven years, state legislators pushed the value of a package of public infrastructure investments passed during the 2014 Legislative Session to over $1 billion.
Gov. Mark Dayton signed off on the construction bill May 20, green-lighting projects across the state that will create “millions of work hours” for union members in the coming years, according to Harry Melander, president of the Minnesota Building and Construction Trades Council.
“Minnesota taxpayers are very well served by these investments, which provide needed asset preservation and create opportunities for the Building Trades community,” Melander said. “By funding major civic centers in Greater Minnesota and the Lewis and Clark water pipeline in the southwest part of the state, present leadership is doing what’s right not only for the Metro but for Greater Minnesota.”
For the East Metro, the infrastructure bill provides funding to renovate the Palace Theater downtown St. Paul and for improvements to the Children’s Museum.
Catholic Charities received $6 million to expand and renovate the Dorothy Day Center, a homeless shelter downtown St. Paul. The development may result in demolition of the St. Paul Labor & Professional Centre, the longtime “house of labor” located across the street from Dorothy Day and the home of several union offices, including the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation.
In addition to the infrastructure bill, the Trades successfully pushed a pair of policy measures signed into law this year.
One establishes minimum requirements contractors must meet in order to bid for work on publicly funded projects. Criteria include compliance with the state’s prevailing-wage laws and its requirements regarding workers compensation and unemployment insurance.
“It will make sure contractors that have cheated won’t be able to participate in publicly funded jobs for a three-year period,” Melander said. “It will be another vehicle to ensure compliance when workers are entitled to prevailing wages.”
Lawmakers also made permanent a pilot program begun two years ago, requiring contractors to register with the Department of Labor and Industry.
The initiative has been successful in preventing the misclassification of workers, North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters Political Director Kyle Makarios said.
“This legislation aims to crack down on the shadowy part of the construction industry, where workers are paid cash or paid off the books or misclassified as ‘independent contractors’ so the employer can avoid paying taxes, Social Security, workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance,” Makarios said.
“If someone is working for you, you have to pay them as an employee unless, in fact, they own their own business or act like a business.”