California’s prevailing wage law has been in place for more than 50 years. It is the law of the land for federal and state public works projects. In government contracting, a prevailing wage is the hourly wage paid to the majority of workers, laborers and mechanics within one specific geographic area.
Currently it is not required in California’s charter cities, even though more than half comply with the state’s prevailing wage structure. San Diego is considering joining those charter cities that provide prevailing wage as a
baseline of pay for taxpayer-funded public works projects.
There is more to prevailing wage than just quality jobs. It also allows the public to have a well-trained, qualified local work force to build their public projects in the least amount of time. Prevailing wage laws ensure the preservation of a highly skilled work force, as well as apprenticeship programs to train the next generation of workers, leading to fewer injuries and a quicker completion time.
There have been multiple analytical studies done by respected academic institutions backing up the need for prevailing wage on public projects. Colorado State University found that prevailing wages do not lead to higher costs. A public library built without prevailing wages cost taxpayers $430 per square foot. Another library built with prevailing wages only cost taxpayers $326 per square foot and had 71% of the work go to local contractors.
San Diego currently requires prevailing wage rates on public works projects of more than $10 million. The capital budget for the year includes 190 construction contracts, of which only 21% require prevailing wage. On July 29, the San Diego City Council will meet to consider the issue and determine if prevailing wages should be applied to all city public works projects.