City of Mountain View Expands Prevailing Wage Mandates to Private Affordable Housing Developments Receiving City Funds

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Construction unions and allied organizations continue their campaign to stop California’s charter cities from exercising their constitutional right to adopt their own city policies concerning wage rates on purely municipal public works construction contracts or on private construction receiving government financial assistance only from the city.

On October 8, 2013, the council of the City of Mountain View (in Santa Clara County) voted 6-1 for a resolution to end its policy of not requiring affordable housing developers receiving city funds to impose state prevailing wage rates on construction trade work or professional construction services.

While not explaining how the State of California actually determines “prevailing wage” rates, the staff report was fairly blunt about the increased cost of the proposed resolution:

…to get a better understanding of the impact, staff contacted BRIDGE Housing, a major nonprofit developer constructing affordable housing throughout California. BRIDGE Housing’s Vice President, Tom Earley, stated that the cost increase due to prevailing wage averages about 10 percent. His figure is based on actual projects and direct experience and not from estimates or studies. This is consistent with ROEM’s estimate for the Franklin Street Family Apartments, shown in the table below, which compares the prevailing and nonprevailing wage budgets for the recently constructed Franklin Street Family Apartments. In this case, a prevailing wage increased the project cost by 10 percent.

Among the members of the Mountain View City Council, only Mayor John Inks voted against the government mandate for state prevailing wage rates. You can thank him via e-mail.

Two city council members cited the support of prevailing wage by Congressman Paul Ryan (the 2012 Republican candidate for Vice President) in defense of their votes. Advocates for California’s prevailing wage law like this “bipartisan” argument: it was used at the San Diego City Council meetings earlier this year.

Staff noted there weren’t any pending affordable housing projects on which this new policy would apply. It’s likely this vote was a political stunt orchestrated by union officials as additional momentum to convince Governor Jerry Brown to sign Senate Bill 7, which would withhold state funds for construction from any charter city that establishes its own policy concerning prevailing wage on city projects or city-funded projects. The Governor has to make a decision on this bill by October 13.

News Media Coverage

Council OKs Union Wages for Affordable Housing: Policy Will Add about 10 Percent to Cost of New ProjectsMountain View Voice – October 10, 2013

Mountain View: City-Funded Affordable Housing Projects to Pay Prevailing WageSan Jose Mercury-News – October 10, 2013

This article reported the following:

The discussion drew a large and mostly supportive crowd Tuesday. Among those who addressed the city council was Mountain View resident Matt Savage, who said he works multiple jobs but still struggles to pay his rent.

“Prevailing wage helps preserve the middle class here in Mountain View,” he said. “It’s not just Google employees at the top and the people who wash their cars and mow their lawns at the bottom.”

I posted a comment in response to the article:

Mountain View resident Matt Savage struggles to pay his rent? You would think the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local No. 5 would pay more money to its organizers/political consultants.…

Few ordinary citizens know that emotional anecdotes made at public meetings are usually manipulative distortions for political effect.

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