Saying they are seeking more autonomy over local government matters, two South County city councils are moving forward with hearings on whether to place measures on the November ballot to change from general law to charter cities.
But one part of Arroyo Grande’s and Grover Beach’s draft charters — possible exemptions from prevailing wage requirements — deeply concerns local union members.
The Grover Beach City Council will hold the first of several public hearings in May on a draft measure that would change the city from a general law to a charter city. The council has not yet decided whether to place the measure on the November ballot. But it voted Monday to move forward with a series of public hearings over the next few months.
A similar process is happening in Arroyo Grande, where the council there voted unanimously Tuesday to schedule a June 24 hearing to formally consider putting its charter measure on the November ballot.
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Officials from both cities have said becoming a charter city would give them more local control and allow them to draft their own rules on election procedures, bidding for contracts, and purchasing goods, property or services.
The topic that has drawn the most attention and concern from union members and their supporters is the potential for each city to exempt itself from paying the prevailing wage in certain situations.
“The building trades would much rather work with you and get a charter passed than work against you and oppose it,” Steven M. Weiner told Grover Beach council members Monday. He is executive secretary-treasurer of the Tri-Counties Building & Construction Trades Council, which represents 33 craft unions in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties.
Michael Lopez, an organizer with the United Association of Plumbers & Pipe Fitters Local 114 based in Buellton, told the council the issue boils down to paying people a “real living wage.”
“We’re talking about building careers,” he said. “Let’s stop bringing people from out of the area to do the work that belongs to us.”
The Grover council has not determined its stance on prevailing wage in the charter. So far, council members decided to include two options to discuss at their next hearing — one that explains when the prevailing wage must be paid, the other that requires it for all projects.
“This really is a larger issue than prevailing wage,” Councilman Jeff Lee said during Monday’s hearing. “But that is the touchstone topic that brings people to the table for discussion.”
State law defines the prevailing wage as the hourly rate within the local labor market that most workers in a particular trade are paid. The law ensures that contractors don’t pay their workers less in order to underbid competitors on public projects.
Supporters say that prevailing wage ensures that workers are properly trained, ensures good workmanship and prevents cost overruns.
Last year, state lawmakers approved a bill that eliminated state funding of any kind for charter cities that make use of that exemption. Several California charter cities have challenged the law’s constitutionality.
The Arroyo Grande council in January voted over union protests to move ahead with a charter measure that includes guidelines to establish when prevailing wage could be waived on projects.
City officials have said the prevailing wage exemptions give the city flexibility to ensure projects are constructed in the most cost-effective manner. Arroyo Grande City Manager Steve Adams said research by city staff found that state prevailing wage requirements increase public works project costs, on average, by 5 percent to 30 percent.