California's prevailing wage law, also known as the Little Davis-Bacon Act, was enacted more than 50 years ago by Governor Goodwin Knight, following the passage of the federal Davis-Bacon Act in 1931. Prevailing wage laws were established for two reasons: a) to ensure that skilled construction workers employed on public works projects would be paid at least the wages and benefits that “prevail” in their local communities, and b) to make sure that unscrupulous contractors would not import unskilled or low skilled workers from other parts of the country who would undercut the local workforce by working for lower pay.
In October, the California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) sent out a notice about a prevailing wage survey of all construction employers in California’s 18 counties in the Central Valley. The survey applies to all crafts that performed private residential work from February 2009 to February 2010 and will, according to the DIR, be used to “update these determinations [wages] in the future.”
There has never been a survey conducted of this size and scope in the history of the state, and it is just the beginning of what will become a full-blown frontal assault on workers’ wages.
While the notice was intended to give contractors a “heads up” about the survey, the public comment period was only two weeks long. There were also no public hearings, meaning no one could speak publicly about this survey, which will ultimately lower workers’ wages at a time when a deepening recession, minimal work hours and sweeping job losses have already crippled this large and important sector of California’s middle class. To perform a survey of this magnitude at this time is unthinkable, especially given the fact that there has been no residential work in the Central Valley for the past two years, which will ultimately flaw the survey results and lower the wage rate.
So what does the state’s Central Valley construction wage survey really mean for Central Valley construction workers? Ultimately, lower wages, unless we take advantage of the opportunity to fight back.
After massive complaints, the DIR finally agreed to hold only two public hearings and extend the time period for public comment until April 2010, and now is the time for workers to band together in full force to counteract this brutal attack on wages. Hearings on Prevailing Wage determination are being held on Wednesday, March 17 in San Francisco and Thursday, March 18 in Fresno, so don’t miss your opportunity to be heard and let the Director’s Advisory Committee on Public Works know that you won’t stand for this bait and switch tactic.