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May
2013
15

Mountain View, CA, Unlike Cities in MI and PA, Seeks to Expand Rather than Diminish the Prevailing Wage



In California, the Mountain View City Council is changing their stance on prevailing wage laws as they pertain to the building of affordable housing units.

In the past, prevailing wage laws were limited to public works projects and capital improvements. In a 6-1 vote, however, the council has directed city staff to create a resolution to expand the policy to include affordable housing units. Council members now believe they should lead by example and pay better wages on all projects. According to the Mercury News, Council Member Margaret Abe Koga argued in favor of expanding the prevailing wage during the council’s talks:

“Our city already has an existing policy. It’s an expansion of it. I think it makes sense to be consistent. Anything that we do as a city, I just feel very strongly that we should set the example and the standard. I fundamentally believe that we should be paying fair wages for any work that’s done for our city.””

Council Member Ronit Bryant was on the council the last time the subject was brought up for debate. She says her view on the subject has evolved over the better part of a decade.

“It’s one of the few decisions I’ve really regretted that I’ve made on council,” Bryant said.

“It’s basically like saying, ‘Do you give someone a fish or do you teach them how to fish?’ In this case, ‘Do you build affordable housing with workers who will need affordable housing?’ ”

Other members are waiting to see detailed studies on the subject before they fully support the expansion. Vice Mayor Chris Clark and Council Member Mike Kasperzak were among the hesitants:

“If we move forward with this, I just want to make sure that we do it the right way and that we’re not doing this on the fly,” said Clark, who indicated he would likely support paying a prevailing wage for affordable housing projects.

Anti-prevailing wage voices parrot the claim that raising labor costs hurts taxpayers but many politicians are taking notice of the higher return state governments achieve when wages are higher. This is becoming a powerful point of advocacy for prevailing wage protections around the country. Rick Solis of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters Local Union 405 made this point during the council’s meeting:

Many of these workers receive cash payments or even gift cards from stores instead of weekly paychecks that have the appropriate taxes taken out, further crippling our great state by not getting the appropriate funds to pay for education, health care and infrastructure improvements,” Solis said.

Jose Garcia of the Northern California Fire Protection Compliance Group noted the benefits he has enjoyed for the past 30 years that directly came from being paid a prevailing wage:

“Because of that (prevailing wage) I have never relied on public benefits at all. I don’t need affordable housing because prevailing wage forced me to buy my own home. I don’t need health care assistance … because the prevailing wage allows me to have my own health insurance.”

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