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West Virginia Senate passes two labor bills

State Sen. Glenn Jeffries, D-Putnam, speaks against changes to the West Virginia Contractor Licensing Board. (Photo Provided)

CHARLESTON — A bill making changes to contractor licensing boards and changing how unions collect dues passed the West Virginia Senate on Tuesday.

House Bill 2006, relating to the West Virginia Contractor Licensing Act, passed 19-14 Tuesday, with Republican state senators Amy Grady, R-Mason, Bill Hamilton, R-Upshur, and Rupie Phillips, R-Logan, voting with the Democratic minority. The bill heads back to the House of Delegates to approve Senate changes to the bill.

HB 2006 moves West Virginia Contractor Licensing Board from the Division of Labor and puts it in the same code section as Chapter 30 occupational licensing boards. The Division of Labor would continue to provide services to the board for a two-year transition period and can continue to contract with the Division of Labor for services.

The bill raises the threshold value for work that requires a contractor’s license from $2,500 to $5,000 for residential work and $25,000 for commercial work. An amendment offered Monday also removed landscaping and painting services from the definition of “contractor.”

State Sen. Glenn Jeffries, D-Putnam, is the owner of a contractor and construction company. Speaking against the bill, Jeffries said the current structure of the Contractor Licensing Board is working.

“I don’t know whether we’re trying to fix a problem, because there’s not a problem,” Jeffries said. “I just see we’re trying to create an extra burden upon the Division of Labor, the licensing board … why are we doing that?”

“I think this is a bad bill,” Jeffries continued. “I think it’s unnecessary because there is not a problem out there. It’s working properly.”

Jeffries also said he didn’t understand removing painting services from the contractor definition. Jeffries said the bill creates an opening for out-of-state painters to come in and avoid following West Virginia’s laws and regulations.

“I’m still trying to wrap my head around why we are making an exemption for … specifically painting,” Jeffries said. “The residential part I can understand, but it’s the commercial part that’s really confusing me.”

Senate Government Organization Committee Chairman Mark Maynard, R-Wayne, called HB 2006 a “jobs bill.” He said the bill will help make it easier for people to work.

“West Virginia is so low on the workforce participation,” Maynard said. “It just allows people out there to potentially considering an occupation they may not be able to currently get into because of our strict state code.”

The Senate also passed House Bill 2009, relating to limitations on the use of wages and agency shop fees by employers and labor organizations for political activities. The bill passed 20-14, with only Republican senators Grady and Hamilton voting with the Democratic minority.

HB 2009 would prohibit employers and payroll agents from withholding a portion of an employee’s wages and salaries for political activities on behalf of a union or any other private organization without express written authorization by the employee. It also prohibits state, county, and municipal governments from deducting public union dues from paychecks.

State Sen. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, rose against the bill Tuesday. A longtime union leader with the United Mine Workers of America, Caputo called the bill “retribution” and would hurt not only unions, but fraternal organizations.

“What I have heard is we have to take away the right for people to willingly and voluntarily support an organization of their choice,” Caputo said. “What I believe this bill does … is weaken organizations that stand up and fight for a better way of life not only for themselves, but for their children and their grandchildren as well.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Trump, R-Morgan, said the technology now exists to allow union members or members of other groups automatically push payments to these groups from their bank account instead of making employers or the state responsible for collecting these dues and fees.

“The purpose of this bill, in my mind, is not for retribution or to punish or any such thing,” Trump said. “It recognizes the reality of our 21st century life, and that is we do not need to have organizations making deductions from people’s paychecks for these things anymore. It’s too easy now. Anyone who wants to belong to a club or a labor organization or a country club can easily have an automatic withdrawal set up from his or her checking account.”

HB 2009 also heads back to the House of Delegates to approve Senate changes to the bill.

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