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RPS 205 under investigation for alleged violation of Illinois wage law

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ROCKFORD (WREX) — The Illinois Comptroller's Office is investigating Rockford Public Schools for an alleged violation of a state law that requires public entities that use state dollars to pay a prevailing wage to contractors.

According to a letter obtained by 13 WREX the comptroller's office is investigating allegations that RPS 205 violated the Prevailing Wage Act and requested documentation from the district to investigate whether it was in compliance with the act, which ensures union workers are paid fairly in contracted and subcontracted work.

According to Northwest Illinois Building Trades Union Vice President John Penney, the complaint centers around the district allegedly using its own maintenance workers to do construction work on its administration building, located at 401 7th St., Rockford. The Illinois Comptroller's Office says the local IBEW submitted the complaint through its "Prevailing Wage Portal."

"After the project went out to bid, it was awarded to a general contractor and then subcontractors were taken out of the project, or cut out of the project, by the district in an effort to reduce the cost of the finished product," Penney said.

According to Penney, the district cut out certain parts of the project, like plumbing, electrical, some carpentry, paints and other miscellaneous items, jobs that Penney said are for construction workers, not maintenance.

"We feel that maintenance workers are there to do maintenance work throughout the district and not take on new construction or remodel projects that are governed by prevailing wage laws that set the wage rates for construction workers in those applicable trades," he said.

Typically, prevailing wage violations are determined when a public entity pays contracted workers less money than the prevailing wage rate, which is set each year by the state based on the trade. Penney said this alleged violation, where the public entity uses its own maintenance workers for remodeling or construction, is "extremely rare" because most public entities don't have the robust maintenance workforce like the school district.

"Maintenance crews in theory are great because it eliminates the need to find a contractor in a quick turnaround scenario," Penney said. "When it's a remodel project or a construction project, that's where our local contractors and our local workforce come in."

As Penney awaits an answer from the Comptroller's Office about whether this accusation is a prevailing wage violation, he said there is no animosity between the local unions and the district.

"It may appear because there's a disagreement that maybe we're not working together, but trade unions, the school district we absolutely work together and once we get this figured out and get to common ground it's going to be better for everyone involved," Penney said, highlighting the annual career fair trades unions host for RPS 205 students.

RPS 205 has 7 days to respond to the comptroller's office's request for documentation. The district has declined to comment until that time.

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Breane Lyga

Breane Lyga is the content manager at 13 WREX. She joined the team in 2015 as the 5, 6 and 10PM news producer after graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. She was 13 WREX’s assignment editor from 2017 to 2018.

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