Anti-Prevailing Wage Bills Killed by Legislative Committees

Just as an Assembly committee had done last week, the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee on Wednesday killed an effort by the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) to gut California’s prevailing wage laws.

The two ABC-backed bills, SB 725 and 727, had the same aim as two Assembly bills that were defeated last week. They would have increased the prevailing wage cost threshold from $1,000 to $100,000, allowed local governments and special districts to exempt themselves from prevailing wage by ordinance or resolution, eliminated prevailing wage on specific public works projects, narrowed the definition of a public works project, weakened apprentice requirements, attacked collective bargaining agreements, and lowered the prevailing wage overall by abolishing the “modal” rate of prevailing wage determination. With no Republicans attending Wednesday’s hearing, both bills went down on 0-5 votes. The Assembly Bills from last week also failed.

Continuing their penchant for fabrication and outright lies, the ABC made three central arguments in both hearings in support of their legislation. First, they argued that the bills were needed because Central Valley contractors were harmed by being forced to pay Bay Area prevailing wage rates (both authors are from the Central Valley). Then they claimed that this issue was prevalent throughout small California towns. Finally, they argued that they were only trying to find ways to get more people working as soon as possible – the inference being that lower wages leads to more employment.

After being shown charts of prevailing wage rates in San Francisco County and Kern County, proving that there are indeed different rates and explaining where to get those charts (the Department of Industrial Relations website), what the ABC was really trying to do was summed up succinctly by Senator Leland Yee: they want to pay workers less for doing the same amount of work. The State Building Trades couldn’t agree more.

The ABC subscribes to the callous belief that what is stalling the California economy is workers and their wages and benefits. If workers made less there would be more work. Of course they completely ignore the fact that it was a cabal of greedy market manipulators and their quest for profits on Wall Street above all else that got the country and California into the economic mess we are in.

Make no mistake: the ABC is complicit with those market manipulators. The facts prove that they are only out for profits at the expense of workers’ wages and benefits for the small slice of California contractors they represent. The ABC represents about 1,200 out of 345,000 California contractors. However, according to a recent report by the Division of Labor Standards and Enforcement (DLSE), their sliver of California’s contractor pie made up 24% of the DLSE wage and hour violations. This equals $2.5 million in wages, benefits, and penalties.

Furthermore, one of their contractors, a recent winner of the ABC’s “Excellence in Construction” award, was recently charged in a “pay for play” scandal by the San Diego District Attorney that netted twenty six felony charges against five defendants. Another ABC contractor recently pled guilty to violations of the state's insurance, labor, and penal codes and was ordered to make restitution of $350,000 to 43 workers and $850,000 to the state. These are just two of many examples of the shenanigans of ABC contractors. They clearly don’t care about workers.

The State Building Trades is trying to defend the wage that leads to middle-class livelihoods. In this economic climate this is not the time to be lowering wages or prevailing wages. These bills would have eviscerated the prevailing wage and taken money out of the pockets of construction workers at the worst possible time.