FILE - Susana Mendoza 8-13-19

Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza talks to the press in Springfield on Tuesday, August 13, 2019.

A labor defense attorney has raised concerns that Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza’s executive order, which allows her office to pre-audit wage complaints on public projects, could leave the door open to business intimidation that could drive up the cost of projects.

However, Mendoza’s office said the order was clear.

Signed last month, Mendoza’s order gives her office the discretion to withhold payments while a prevailing wage complaint makes its way through the process at the Illinois Department of Labor.

“Rebuild Illinois has the potential to change the landscape of Illinois,” she said. “My office will do everything it can to lend support to the Department of Labor, bring more transparency to the construction program and hold state contractors accountable for paying fair wages.”

Jeffrey Risch, chair of the labor employment group at SmithAmundsen, said he worried the order was too ambiguous.

“We have created a system under the Illinois Prevailing Wage Act where you can use taxpayer money and the government to go after your enemies,” he said.

The withholding of payment against a business could be used as leverage against a business that’s not seeing eye-to-eye with a local labor union, Risch said.

“Is that going to create an opportunity for certain third parties to use this executive order and the comptroller’s office to go after their enemies?” he asked.

Mendoza’s office said its duty is clearly spelled out in the executive order, which is not a process to unilaterally cancel a payment in response to a complaint.

“This is a process to monitor compliance with the state’s prevailing wage law and potentially hold up a payment while the Department of Labor goes through its investigation,” Mendoza spokesman Abdon Pallasch said. “This order does not grant any powers to withhold payment that the comptroller’s office does not already have.”

Rebuild Illinois, the state’s $45 billion infrastructure plan, will result in a significant number of checks being cut by Mendoza’s office.

Risch, who represents companies in prevailing wage disputes, said the possibility of having a payment for a job withheld during a government investigation of a prevailing wage dispute could keep some contractors from bidding on state projects.

“Is it going to whittle down contractors that are qualified and responsible from bidding,” he said.

Regional Editor

Cole Lauterbach is a regional editor for The Center Square covering Arizona, California, Oregon, and Washington. For more than a decade, Cole has produced award-winning content on both radio and television.