With an overwhelming 6 to 1 majority vote, the Mountain View City Council passed a Prevailing Wage requirement for new affordable housing projects in the city. Mountain View, like other Charter Cities, was longer required to pay prevailing wages after a California Supreme Court ruling last year that made clear charter cities retain the autonomy to decide prevailing wage for themselves. Make no mistake; this is an important victory for the local economy, construction workers and the residents of Mountain View.
A prevailing wage ordinance requires the payment of an hourly wage, usual benefits and overtime, paid to the majority of workers, laborers and mechanics with a particular area. The history of prevailing wage dates back to early turn of the century, when the Davis-Bacon act was signed into law in 1931. Senator James Davis and Representative Robert Bacon sought federal legislation to protect local labor from displacement by migrant workers and competitive pressure toward sub-standard wages. Since then, prevailing wage regulations have been a driving force in shaping construction jobs as a pathway to the middle class.
Staff in Mountain View rightly ended their presentation with the assertion that including a prevailing wage requirement for affordable housing is a value judgment, a theme that was touched on by many members of the audience who spoke in favor of inclusion. Many of the speakers also touched on the benefits tied directly to construction, including encouraging a highly skilled labor force, improving workplace safety, and providing economic incentives for quality construction. There is also empirical evidence that the economic impact of a higher wage and more skilled workforce can be substantial, offsetting any increase in wages in the construction sector that might result from implementing prevailing wage.
Community members also spoke to the economic ripple effect of prevailing wage, citing a landmark study by Working Partnerships USA comparing construction with and without prevailing wage and the economic benefits brought about by using prevailing wage. The study links prevailing wage to a significant increase in local hiring, with upwards of a 59.4 percentage point increase in the percent of local funds going to local contracts. With prevailing wage, these are good jobs going overwhelmingly to local workers, bringing tax revenues and spending back to the community. Sally Lieber, who represented Mountain View as a member of the State Assembly made the most salient point of the night; without a prevailing wage, the workers constructing the affordable housing in Mountain View would be paid so little, they would be eligible to sign up for the affordable housing.
Choosing between prevailing wage and affordable housing is not a zero sum game; including a prevailing wage requirement in local housing developments is the right thing to do for the local economy. Last night the community spoke, the leadership listened and good, local jobs prevailed.