Illinois lawmakers are considering sending Gov. J.B. Pritzker legislation that would put general contractors on the hook for any wages a subcontractor failed to pay workers.
The House passed the legislation this spring. Should Pritzker sign the bill into law, any general contractor who hires a subcontractor that doesn’t properly pay employees could be sued for those wages.
Sponsoring Senator Laura Fine, D-Glenview, said wage theft has become common.
“Wage theft could range anything to not paying workers for hours they work to not paying the legal minimum wage,” she said.
Fine said she wanted to get as much feedback from opponents as possible, signaling that she may amend the bill.
Bill Ward of the Homebuilders Association of Illinois said no one supports wage theft, but the bill, as it’s written, would increase costs for companies due to the increased risk of getting sued.
“This bill says an innocent person who has paid the subcontractor in whole, the general contractor, can be gone after,” he said.
Fine said the bill would allow general contractors to be exempt from the law if they get verification from the subcontractor that they’ve paid all of their people, but Republicans in the House said that would be a significant burden for a general contractor to undertake.
J.P. Bryan, of Geneva Construction in Aurora, said the legislation would be a barrier for new subcontracting businesses to get a foothold in the construction industry because trusting a subcontractor who may not pay his or her employees would be an expensive proposition.
“He comes in with a bid that's three or four percent lower than yours,” he said. “Am I going to take his bid? Probably not.”
The state of California has a similar law. General contractors there have been sued by the state and forced to pay sizable settlements on behalf of contractors they pay to do jobs.
Opponents have said wage theft is already illegal under the Illinois labor relations law and a law put in place in 1902.
The bill could be considered later this fall.