This afternoon (Tuesday, July 30, 2013), the San Diego City Council voted 5-4 to cease taking advantage of its constitutional right to establish its own policies concerning government-mandated wage rates for construction contracts. It adopted a proposal from Mayor Bob Filner to submit to state law and require its construction contractors to pay “prevailing wage” rates set by the state on the basis of union collective bargaining agreements.
Since 1980, the City of San Diego had used its authority as a charter city to exempt almost all of its purely municipal construction contracts from costly and burdensome “prevailing wage” laws. That right was upheld in a July 2012 California Supreme Court decision, State Building and Construction Trades Council, AFL-CIO v. City of Vista.
For those looking for motivations behind Mayor Filner’s determination to remain in office despite scandals and criticism, this vote today was a triumph in his long political career to advance the causes of unions and the “Progressive” movement. He issued a press release titled “BOB FILNER’S PROPOSAL FOR PREVAILING WAGE WINS COUNCIL APPROVAL!!!”
The five-member Democrat majority on the nine-member city council was pleased to take the eighth most populous city in the country a step forward toward the government setting employee wages.
As proclaimed by some union representatives and community organizers who spoke during the July 30 city council meeting, state prevailing wage mandates will also apply to private development projects that get any sort of financial assistance from the City of San Diego. Under state law, these private projects are “public works,” equivalent to a courthouse or post office.
Democrats justified their support for Filner’s proposal based on the usual rhetoric about strengthening the middle class. They claimed the ordinance would ensure quality work, as if everything built in San Diego for the past 33 years has fallen down. Union officials claimed that state prevailing wage mandates would not actually increase costs because higher wages would attract better workers, thus saving money. Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez – the former head of the San Diego County Central Labor Council – insinuated (contrary to city findings on local employment for city construction contracts) that workers from Arizona and Mexico would stop building city projects.
The actual process of ending this 33 year-old policy happened quickly. On May 8, 2013, Mayor Filner sent a memo to the San Diego City Council proposing an ordinance to impose full city submission to state prevailing wage laws. Jennifer Badgley, Director of Special Projects and Labor Affairs for Mayor Filner, subsequently wrote a staff report in support of the ordinance that didn’t include one acknowledgement of opposing views. (She was formerly an Organizer/Political Director for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local Union No. 569.)
Badgley also made a presentation at the July 30 city council meeting and falsely informed the city council that the state determines prevailing wage rates by conducting surveys. (The state never conducts surveys to determine prevailing wages; it simply adds up the employer payments in the collective bargaining agreements for each trade in each union geographical jurisdiction.)
The City of San Diego has an Office of the Independent Budget Analyst, which produced two reports suggesting and then reiterating that the prevailing wage mandate would increase costs of city construction contracts by 5 to 10 percent. Former union operatives now working for Mayor Filner as policy staffers strongly disputed the analyst’s findings. At the July 30 city council meeting, a union representative in the audience heckled the presentation of the Independent Budget Analyst.
Local government budget analysts are not appreciated by unions and their political allies when they exercise independent thinking, and the people of San Diego will need to watch carefully for an attempted political purge of this office.
In the meantime, the San Diego City Council follows the lead of the board of education for the San Diego Unified School District, which has “progressed” even further to require its construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement as a condition of working on projects funded by $4.9 billion borrowed through the sale of bonds authorized by voters in November 2008 and November 2012.
Will the people of San Diego hold Mayor Bob Filner and the Democrat majority on the city council accountable for increasing costs for taxpayers at the demand of union officials? Or will people forget by the next election, as a result giving unions confidence to take the next step toward a union monopoly on city construction projects?
Look Up State-Mandated Wage Rates (“Prevailing Wages”) for Construction Trades in the City of San Diego: General Prevailing Wage Journeyman Determinations
July 26, 2013 – Report No. 13-33 from City of San Diego Office of the Independent Legislative Analyst: Key Issues for Proposal to Require Compliance with State Prevailing Wage Laws on all City Public Works Projects with Report No. 13-33 – Attachment 1 and Report No. 13-33 – Attachment 2
June 18, 2013 – Report No. 13-26 from City of San Diego Office of the Independent Legislative Analyst: Review of Proposal to Require Compliance with the State’s Prevailing Wage Laws on all City Public Works Projects
June 17, 2013 – Memorandum of Law from San Diego City Attorney: Proposal to Apply State Prevailing Wage Laws to City Public Works Projects
July 16, 2013 – Report to the San Diego City Council No. 13-051 from Office of Mayor Bob Filner (Jennifer Badgley): Prevailing Wage Requirements for Municipal Public Works Projects
July 22, 2013 – Memorandum to the San Diego City Council President from Mayor Bob Filner: Supplemental Docket Request for Prevailing Wage Ordinance
May 8, 2013 – Memorandum to the San Diego City Council from Mayor Bob Filner: Prevailing Wage
Are Charter Cities Taking Advantage of State-Mandated Construction Wage Rate (“Prevailing Wage”) Exemptions? – 92-page guidebook to status of prevailing wage policies in California’s 121 charter cities.
State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, AFL-CIO v. City of Vista et al. – California Supreme Court decision of July 2, 2012 upholding constitutional right of charter cities to establish their own policies concerning government-mandated wage rates for municipal construction contracts.
Kevin Dayton is the President & CEO of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC, and is the author of frequent postings about generally unreported California state and local policy issues at www.laborissuessolutions.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaytonPubPolicy.