California State Senate Majority Leader Darrell Steinberg issued a press release on February 19, 2013 announcing the introduction of Senate Bill 7, which would impose a financial disincentive on any of California’s 121 charter cities that establish their own policies concerning government-mandated construction wage rates (so-called “prevailing wages”). See Bi-Partisan Bill by State Senators to Require Prevailing Wage Jobs in California Charter Cities.
At least 53 of the 121 charter cities in California establish their own policies concerning government-mandated construction wage rates, with 43 of them providing for a complete exemption. (See page 18 of this guidebook and add two for Newport Beach and Bakersfield.)
Most recently, the charter city of Newport Beach established its own policy concerning government-mandated construction wage rates in January 2013, and the charter city of Bakersfield established its own policy concerning government-mandated construction wage rates in October 2012.
(For more details, see Newport Beach Is Latest California Charter City to Establish Its Own Prevailing Wage Policy: 7-0 Unanimous Vote for Fiscal Responsibility and Common Sense and Bakersfield Becomes Latest of California’s 121 Charter Cities to Free Itself from Government-Mandated Construction Wage Rates – So-Called “Prevailing Wage”)
In July 2012, the California Supreme Court (in State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, AFL-CIO v. City of Vista) upheld a longstanding practice among charter cities to use their local authority to implement their own policies concerning government-mandated construction wage rates (so-called “prevailing wages”). These policies can apply to public works projects receiving public funding only from the city or private projects receiving public assistance with monetary value that only comes from the city.
State-mandated construction wage rates can be 5%-30% higher than actual market wages in a locality, depending on the geographic region and the trade. Under current state law, the state does not conduct surveys of contractors or workers to determine “prevailing wages.” Instead, the California Division of Labor Statistics and Research collects union collective bargaining agreements, adds up all of the employer payments in the agreements (including payments to trust funds that are not employee wages or fringe benefits), and declares the total to be the prevailing wage.
The State Building and Construction Trades Council of California (an umbrella lobbying group for construction unions) detests charter cities that establish their own policies concerning government-mandated construction wage rates. Unions want all local governments to submit to state law, which imposes these political demands of unions (1) broadly define public works to encompass many private projects; and (2) calculate so-called prevailing wage rates using union collective bargaining agreements.
Construction unions have also aggressively opposed proposed charters and have recently stopped movements for charters in Elk Grove, Redding, Rancho Palos Verdes, Auburn, Costa Mesa, Escondido, and Grover Beach.
For a comprehensive, authoritative guide to the status of policies concerning government-mandated construction wage rates in California’s 121 charter cities, see Are Charter Cities Taking Advantage of State-Mandated Construction Wage Rate (“Prevailing Wage”) Exemptions?
Also, see general information about Charter Cities from the League of California Cities.