In January 2012, the California State Assembly’s Labor and Employment Committee considered two comprehensive, detailed bills introduced by Assemblywoman Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) to reform the definition of public works (Assembly Bill 987) and the method of calculating state-mandated construction wage rates, aka “prevailing wages” (Assembly Bill 988). The Democrat majority on the committee rejected them. A couple of committee members claimed that the bills were too ambitious and suggested a more modest approach.
On Wednesday, April 18, this same committee considered Assemblywoman Grove’s Assembly Bill 1958, which made two very modest changes to the state’s prevailing wage laws. It increased the project cost threshold for coverage from $1000 to $2000 to match the $2000 threshold set by the federal prevailing wage law called the Davis-Bacon Act. It also indexed the threshold to the same measure of inflation that the Democrats want to use for indexing the state minimum wage. (See Assembly Bill 1439, approved by this same committee at the same hearing.)
My former employer Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) of California and I were the only witnesses in support of the bill.
Dutifully tramping up to the witness table to oppose the bill were several union lobbyists, who declared, among other things, that “this bill takes money out of the pockets of construction workers and gives it to contractors.” No one bothered to point out that these projects are actually paid for by taxpayers, not contractors. That’s why such projects are called “public works” – the public pays the bill.
Unions scored a victory, as the committee voted 5-2 on a party-line vote (Democrats opposed, Republicans in support) to reject the indexing of the threshold and continue to require contractors to pay the state-mandated construction wage rates to workers on construction projects worth $1001 to $2000. That’s one to brag about in the union newsletters!