At a time when the City of El Centro is experiencing the second highest unemployment rate of any city in the nation, it is astounding that leaders there are wasting tax dollars and time by joining a lawsuit against a new state law designed to create more middle class jobs for construction workers across California.
The new law, Senate Bill 7 does not require cities to pay prevailing wages, but it does provide incentives to cities that choose to pay prevailing wages on projects that are locally funded. SB7 gives access to state funding and financing if they will comply with prevailing wage agreements already in place for all state and federally funded projects on locally funded projects.
State and federal governments already require the payment of prevailing wage, because for over 80 years, prevailing wage laws have ensured that taxpayer dollars go to fund projects that are completed by the best trained workers available for the best value possible; more often than not, these projects are completed on time and on budget. For years, out of state lobby groups have tried to convince local officials in California that they can save money by paying workers less. In practice, these claims tend to fall apart.
Prevailing wage bidders are often competitive with other bidders on a project or even lower. The quality of work on those projects is also higher because prevailing wage construction workers have typically completed years of apprenticeship and know how to complete the work efficiently and correctly.
As an example, a recent library project in Palo Alto clearly shows the pitfalls that cities can face if they chose to take the risk of prevailing wage protections.They didn’t use prevailing wage and three years after construction started, their library still isn’t finished, is millions of dollars over budget and has been plagued by every kind of problem you can imagine; from subcontractors going under to potential litigation with the primary contractor.
A similar project was started around the same time in Gilroy, but they chose to go with qualified prevailing wage workers. Their project was completed on time, on budget and has been open for over a year. Case after case, opponents of this policy can’t show the savings.
In Costa Mesa they are considering placing another charter on the ballot; primarily to avoid paying prevailing wage on their local construction projects. They asked other cities to weigh in on how much they have saved by paying their construction workforce less, and the answers surprised charter supporters.
Carlsbad eliminated prevailing wage on local projects. When asked what savings were realized by paying workers less, Carlsbad responded: “We have found savings to be hard to ascertain. Bid prices may be lower on the front end but there is some suspicion that total project costs may impact initial savings (change orders, costly project delays, more labor by city employees, etc…..).
This admission shows what leaders from the political spectrum already know. Prevailing wage produces high quality public projects for the best value for taxpayers. It saves money and headaches in the long run and creates middle class jobs in the process. Studies have shown that prevailing wage generates $1.50 in economic activity for every tax dollar invested in a local project. Because these workers are more likely to be local, this also means that more local tax dollars are reinvested in local businesses; keeping the economic engine going.
In a recent news story, the Mayor of El Centro said that local leaders know best how to run their city, but that claim may fall on deaf ears coming from the Mayor of the city with the second highest unemployment rate in the nation. Proponents of this costly lawsuit should listen to the facts rather than the lobbyists and support policies that could help local families and businesses as they continue to dig out of the economic slump.
S.E. Mayes is a 30 year resident of El Centro and serves as an Imperial County Workforce Development Board Member.