The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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April 17, 2014

Volunteer projects spark two bills in Jefferson City

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Bills moving through the Missouri House and Senate were inspired by a volunteer project in Carl Junction last year that stalled over a question of whether those volunteers had to be paid prevailing wage under Missouri law.

“This bill is very simple. All it says is if someone is a volunteer, they won’t be forced to be paid prevailing wage,” state Rep. Charlie Davis, R-Webb City, told lawmakers during a hearing on his bill last week.

The project — a $9,500 pavilion for a city park — was held up last summer after City Alderman Steve Daniels questioned whether a Neosho-based contractor could build it free of charge, as he proposed to do, or whether he had to pay his employees prevailing wage.

The project was to be paid for largely with funds raised by the garden club and by a donation from the Chamber of Commerce’s Community Betterment Fund. A contract between the club and the contractor specified that the labor will be “donated free by builder for self and all workers he uses.”

The contractor, Marcus VanDorn, owner of L&M Construction in Neosho, confirmed in a phone interview with the Globe last summer that his employees had agreed to volunteer their labor for the project, and that because the garden club was not a public entity, he did not believe there was a problem.

Initial plans called for city employees to pour the concrete and for the building plans themselves to be developed by the city’s building inspector.

The question of whether prevailing wage applied was discussed at length at several board meetings.

Initial interpretation

At one point, Daniels, who is retired from the Construction and General Laborers’ Union, Local 319, contacted Jeff Edmondson, a program director with the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations in Jefferson City, who offered his own opinion that the city could be in violation of prevailing wage requirements if it went forward. Daniels relayed that information to City Attorney Mike Talley, who, after checking with the mayor, had a conversation with Edmondson as well, confirming that opinion. Edmondson also invited the city to seek a formal legal opinion from the department, which it did.

An initial ruling from John Lindsey, the director of the state’s Division of Labor Standards, determined that because the pavilion was a public works project of behalf of a public body, the contractor would be required to pay his employees prevailing wage for the project.

With that roadblock in the way, other community members stepped forward to take over the construction, led by Richard Smith, a retired local contractor, and several aldermen, including Daniels, pitching in to help. The pavilion was completed and dedicated last fall.

About the time the pavilion was finished and ready for dedication, Talley got an unsolicited call from Mike Pritchett, general counsel for the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, who advised him that Carl Junction — and other Missouri communities — could in the future obtain affidavits from contractors’ employees who volunteer to work on such projects and then could go forward without fear of violating the state’s prevailing wage law.

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