SBC Pushing Prevailing Wages on Struggling Communties

In the Union this morning: Sustainable jobs, sustainable communities

Far too often, the debate about sustainability gets framed as a false choice between creating jobs by growing the economy, and improving the environment by protecting natural resources.

At the Sierra Business Council, we work every day to help communities find ways to reject false choices by creating green jobs, growing their local economies, protecting resources and leaving a better planet for future generations.


By implementing prevailing wage policies — a wage standard determined by trade and region — governments ensure a host of benefits not just for workers, but for the environment as well.

These policies promote local hiring and top quality workmanship on public construction, as well as ensuring that skilled tradesmen earn a livable wage and supporting vital career training programs. But that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Because prevailing wage workers tend to be from the local area, they spend far less time behind the wheel of their car, reducing fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

Let’s think about this for a moment. Paving is often where cities spend stimulus money, it has a high visual impact, letting the citizens know that city leaders are doing something. If a local shopping mall was paving for the some parking lot repair, the paving contractor would hire some temporary labor at about $12-$15 dollars per hour for the job. However if it was a prevailing wage job for a City or County parking lot, the hourly rate would be closer to $40.00 per hour. Same temporary labor, only at a taxpayer subsidized rate, 2.5 to 3 time the normal wage.

Cities in the Sierra are struggling, some are broke, yet they are being forced to pay 2.5 to 3 times the normal wage, thereby increasing the overall bill for the project that could be done at much lower cost. It’s a direct taxpayer subsidy of someone else’s pay.

This is a clear example of how prevailing wage is nothing more than taxpayer subsidized labor. Is this the best way for struggling cities and counties in the Sierra to be spending taxpayer dollars?

And, SBC’s reasoning for this taxpayer subsidized labor.

Because prevailing wage workers tend to be from the local area, they spend far less time behind the wheel of their car, reducing fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

Last time I checked the contract went to the lowest bidder and that is often a very hungry contractor from the valley. Not to local laborers or local companies.


About Russ Steele

Freelance writer and climate change blogger. Russ spent twenty years in the Air Force as a navigator specializing in electronics warfare and digital systems. After his service he was employed for sixteen years as concept developer for TRW, an aerospace and automotive company, and then was CEO of a non-profit Internet provider for 18 months. Russ's articles have appeared in Comstock's Business, Capitol Journal, Trailer Life, Monitoring Times, and Idaho Magazine.
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4 Responses to SBC Pushing Prevailing Wages on Struggling Communties

  1. Todd Juvinall says:

    The prevailing wage began as a way for white labor unions to exclude the free market black workers back in the 30’s. The problem with the present day prevailing wage is they use the Unions scale as their basis point. Even though there is none in Nevada County the state uses the Sacramento wage as the baseline.


  2. Sorry Walt, but you seem to be confusing public works projects and non public works projects.

    SB7 states:

    “Existing law requires that, except as specified, not less than the general prevailing rate of per diem wages, determined by the Director of Industrial Relations, be paid to workers employed on public works projects. Existing law defines “public works” to include, among other things, construction, alteration, demolition, installation, or repair work done under contract and paid for, in whole or in part, out of public funds, and street, sewer, or other improvement work done under the direction and supervision or by the authority of any officer or public body of the state, or of any political subdivision or district thereof, whether the political subdivision or district operates under a freeholder’s charter or not.

    This bill would prohibit a charter city from receiving or using state funding or financial assistance for a construction project if the city has a charter provision or ordinance that authorizes a contractor to not comply with prevailing wage provisions on any public works contract. The bill would, except as specified, prohibit a charter city from receiving or using state funding or financial assistance for a construction project if the city has awarded, within the prior 2 years, a public works contract without requiring the contractor to comply with prevailing wage provisions. This bill would authorize charter cities to receive or use state funding or financial assistance if the city has a local prevailing wage ordinance, applicable to all of its public works contracts, that includes requirements that are equal to or greater than the state’s prevailing wage requirements, as specified. This bill would exclude contracts for projects of $25,000 or less for construction work, or projects of $15,000 or less for alteration, demolition, repair, or maintenance work. This bill would require the Director of Industrial Relations to maintain a list of charter cities that may receive and use state funding or financial assistance for their construction projects.”

    The point I am making is that SB7 is decided law now….and as such the best way to implement it is to make sure that local contractors can participate…this would mean that local contractors would pay local workers prevailing age IN CASES WHERE THE WORK ITSELF REQUIRES IT not that they pay prevailing wage for all contracts, i.e. contracts with private sector entities.


  3. Walt says:

    Nice load of BS Steve. I suggest you look at prevailing wadge scale. NO local contractor or builder can afford that. The last time I checked,, for me,, that would be 40+ bucks an hour.
    It would be cheaper to hire union. “F” that! As a rule prevailing wadge is one more dollar and hour than union scale. Union benefits are penciled in for prevailing wadge.
    That “plan” of yours is designed to hinder growth and construction projects.
    Sorry bub,, that’s right up there with paying burger flippers 15 bucks an hour.


  4. I think you are missing my point Russ, I believe the contract should go to local labor making prevailing wage. I strongly support local contracting provisions in local government contracts….as does the Nevada County Contractors Association. It is indeed true that in some cases local labor with the skills necessary cannot be found, but if we built local capacity and invested in skills we would not have that problem in the long run.

    Even more important, SB7 is the standard now; we should figure out how we make it work to our advantage. Prevailing wage tied to local contracting and supply provisions tied to workforce training could be a power force in the local economy.


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