Starr tells a Republican audience he’d lower prevailing wages as labor commissioner


State senator Bruce Starr (R-Hillsboro), above at a meeting of building trades unions, is a candidate for the non-partisan office of Commissioner of the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries.

Bruce Starr, a candidate for Oregon labor commissioner, told a gathering of Clackamas County Republicans last March that he will lower state prevailing wage rates if elected in November.

Starr is a five-term Republican state senator from Hillsboro running against incumbent Brad Avakian for the non-partisan position of commissioner of the Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI). Avakian is finishing his first term in the post.

In an audio tape obtained by the Labor Press, Starr asserts that prevailing wage rates in Oregon “are completely out of whack” with market rates in construction.

“There is a way that the labor commissioner can, without going to the governor and asking permission, without going to the Legislature and asking for permission, to bring those prevailing wage rates more in line with the market rates and ultimately save every taxpayer in the state of Oregon dollars,” Starr said.

The Oregon Prevailing Wage Rate law applies to non-federal public works projects that exceed $50,000. For workers, it establishes the minimum wage to be paid for the particular type of construction work performed. Moreover, it levels the playing field for construction contractors bidding on public projects, while assuring taxpayers that they’re getting quality workmanship at a fair price.

Prevailing wage laws are administered and enforced by BOLI and are based on quarterly surveys conducted by the Oregon Employment Division.

The wage rates for 2011, for example, reflect almost 900,000 hours of work performed by construction workers in over 50 craft occupations during four pre-selected weeks of construction activity in the previous 12 months. Data were collected in 14 geographical regions specified in the state law.

“It’s a non-biased, fair reflection of the actual work that is being performed,” said John Mohlis, executive secretary of the Oregon State Building and Construction Trades Council. “To say that prevailing wage rates are out of whack is simply wrong. The surveys reflect the market.”

The Oregon State Building Trades Council has endorsed Avakian for re-election.

The  revelation of the audio tape comes on the heels of Starr telling a conservative radio talk show that, if elected labor commissioner, he will endeavor to make Oregon a “right-to-work” state. That radio interview took place just weeks after Starr appeared before the Oregon State Building and Construction Trades Council convention, where he told a roomful of union construction officials: “We’ve had a good relationship over the last 10 years. We are friends. I’m not walking into enemy territory here today.”

Mohlis said Starr’s remarks on right-to-work and prevailing wage rates surprised him. “It’s not in sync with what I thought his views were,” he told the Labor Press last month. “It shows more urgency to re-elect Avakian. It’s certainly not in our best interest to have a labor commissioner who is anti-labor.”



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