(The Center Square) – Independent contractors from across the spectrum are opposing a measure they say could squeeze them out of business for not being a union shop.
Supporters of House Bill 5412 say it’s meant to stop wage theft among contractors and subcontractors. During floor debate earlier this month in the House, state Reps. Marcus Evans, D-Chicago, the bill’s sponsor, and Kathleen Willis, D-Addison, discussed mounting opposition.
“I know Black contractors, I’ve got friends of them and they’re not calling because this bill does not affect those subcontractors,” Evans said.
“It is affecting women on tractors,” Willis said. “They’re calling me”
“I know women contractors,” Evans said. “Why aren’t they calling?”
“It is affecting Latino contractors, they’re calling me,” Willis said.
Evans said opposition equals support for rich contractors.
The measure narrowly passed the Illinois House earlier this month. It’s now in the Senate.
If the House amendment passes, it would shift the liability for unpaid wages from a project’s subcontractor to the general contractor. Opponents say it would allow subcontractors to forego paying workers without ramifications. But, the bill says, “Primary contractors who are parties to a collective bargaining agreement on the project where the work is being performed shall be exempt.”
Opponent Roxanna Daniel, operations manager at Taj Development company, said the measure is anti-American and bad for businesses across the spectrum.
“They’re not trying to be multimillionaires,” Daniel said during a news conference Thursday. “Some of them aren’t even trying to be entrepreneurs. They just want to eat and they don’t want to join the union.”
Octavia Altheimer, executive director of Black Contractors Owners and Executives (BCOE), categorically opposed the measure, saying non-union contractors will be targeted.
“The trades are gone if you’re not a union, right,” Altheimer said. “You’re gonna squeeze out the little man if you’re not a union. So think about this, this is nothing more than squeezing out non-union members. It’s a squeeze out. And it’s only targeted to Black and brown businesses.”
The coalition of BCOE, the Hispanic American Construction Industry Association, and the Federation of Women Contractors offered a series of other measures to address the wage theft issue. Evans said he’ll continue to work on the measure now that it’s in the Senate.