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CA Cities Scramble to Implement Ordinances Which Comply With New Prevailing Wage Rules


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Several California charter cities are passing ordinances establishing prevailing wage standards that adhere to those mandated by SB7, which becomes law on January 1st, 2015.  SB7 prevents state funds from going to projects in cities that do not adhere to statewide prevailing wage standards. 

Being that many of these cities chose charter status specifically to avoid paying workers the prevailing wage, these ordinances are worker victories that without SB7 would have never materialized.

Among the cities falling in line is San Mateo, located south of San Francisco in the high-tech enclave of Silicon Valley.  Last week the city council passed an ordinance which Councilman David Lim said the council truly wants. But he also expressed a desire to see private developers maintain the proper wage on their own:

“We have a lot of people who work in our community who make a living in our labor groups. They’re our friends who are carpenters, electricians, plumbers and, without prevailing wages, the developers are able to import workers from Southern California or the Central Valley who make much less, because frankly, it costs less to live [there],”

The prevailing wage varies greatly by trade in the region and does not apply to construction projects which cost $25,000 or less (or alteration, demolition, repair or maintenance projects which cost $15,000 or less). Electricians on qualifying projects, for example, could earn between $31.32 and $52.50 depending on their specific department.

City Manager Larry Patterson notes the importance of compliance with SB 7 given the city’s multitude of projects that rely on state funding.  Lim took a more worker-centric tone when speaking with the San Mateo Daily Journal:

“In order to keep things competitive and in order to provide jobs in our community, where we know the money is going to come back into our community, and to allow working class folks to live in our community and send their kids to our schools, … we need to pay prevailing wages,” Lim said. “We also think the work quality is better when you have a local workforce who take pride in what they’re building. … There’s a sort of pride in ownership.”

San Mateo is not alone. Nearby Mountain View, which is home to the headquarters of technology giants such as Google, Mozilla, and Intuit, took similar action.  The city had already required the prevailing wage to be paid on public works construction projects, but last week extended the wages to include “maintenance, repair, alteration, and demolition” of city structures.  

“Given that the city already has prevailing wage on other projects I don’t see why we don’t make it uniform,” council member Margaret-Abe-Koga said at the October 7th council meeting.  “We’ve talked about the high cost of living, (and) we have talked about prevailing wage and costs of it.”

The city allocated $50,000 in administrative costs to implement the new law on an “if needed” basis.  One union official attending the meeting reminded council of the mess that exists in nearby Palo Alto, where outside contractors were brought in for construction of a library after prevailing wages were slashed by the city.  That project is now severely over budget, behind schedule, and in danger of never being completed.  

As was the case with San Mateo, ensuring Mountain View was not denied state funds was the driving force behind the council’s wage rate expansion.  Since June of 2011 Mountain View has received $2.7 million from the state.


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