Council to pay prevailing wage for library project


The City of Gilroy will continue paying the prevailing wage for
its library project following a 6-1 City Council vote during a
special meeting Wednesday.
The City of Gilroy will continue paying the prevailing wage for its library project following a 6-1 City Council vote during a special meeting Wednesday.

More than 50 union members and labor representatives packed the council chambers to show their support of prevailing wage workers, hoisting neon paper signs with messages such as “Gilroy needs good jobs” and “Don’t screw construction workers.”

With the exception of Councilman Craig Gartman, council members followed the advice of city staff, who urged the city to keep using the prevailing wage for the project, as the city may not save money by eliminating it.

City staff estimated that the city could at best save $1.576 million by not paying the prevailing wage. At worst, the city actually could spend $930,000 more than it normally would because of the cost of supplies and potential problems with subcontractors, city officials said. City Engineer Rick Smelser emphasized that many contractors prefer to work with a certain team of subcontractors. Those teams may be difficult to keep intact if prevailing wages are not paid because subcontractors who do not expect prevailing wages could underbid those who do, leading to a lot of unknowns, he said.

In addition, most subcontractors who bid on projects that contain the high environmental standards that the city is mandating for the library tend to use prevailing wage standards anyway, Smelser said.

Library project manager David Marks of Palo Alto-based Nova Partners said he believed that not paying the prevailing wage would have a “big (negative) impact” on the project.

In addition to cost and quality concerns, City Attorney Linda Callon sad the courts were currently reevaluating whether charter cities such as the City of Gilroy need to pay prevailing wages or not.

That fact alone helped influence the vote of Councilman Perry Woodward, who also is an attorney. If the Supreme Court were to disallow cities from paying less than prevailing wages when the City of Gilroy had already decided to do so, “it could be a major catastrophe for this project and for the city,” Woodward said.

Several union representatives advocated during the meeting that the city stick with the prevailing wage, telling the council that they would get what they paid for and that the city should offer fair compensation for its projects.

“Prevailing wage does equal quality,” said Neil Struthers, CEO of the Santa Clara and San Benito Counties Building and Construction Trades Council.

The city would save money if four trained prevailing wage workers could do the work of six non-prevailing wage workers, he said.

Meanwhile, Bill Guthrie of Plumbers, Steamfitters and Refrigeration Fitters Local 393 said that cities across the nation are facing the same economic challenges as Gilroy, but that doing away with prevailing wages was not the way to resolve issues.

“What I believe we cannot morally accept is trying to balance checkbooks on the backs of employees,” Guthrie said. “I urge you not to be supporting the race to the bottom.”

Council members were generally convinced by city staff’s arguments about using the prevailing wage for the library project, although some members including Dion Bracco and Bob Dillon said they would be willing to consider not doing so for other projects.

Councilman Gartman, the lone dissenter, did not give a reason for his “no” vote. However, he said earlier in the meeting that he found some of the figures that Smelser provided to be confusing.

Councilman Peter Arellano, the only council member to vote at Saturday’s goal-setting session against even talking about whether to consider not paying prevailing wages for the library project, said he was happy to see the crowd Wednesday and glad that the council held off on voting on the matter during Monday’s regular meeting.

Arellano expressed concern Monday that discussing the matter while giving the public such short notice may violate the city’s Open Government Ordinance. While Callon determined that was not the case, Mayor Al Pinheiro still opted to hold off and discuss the matter during Wednesday’s special meeting.

That gave some local unions time to organize. Struthers of the Building and Construction Trades Council said after the meeting that he learned that the council was going to discuss the issue from the Google alert system. Josue Garcia, who works with Struthers as deputy executive of the Building and Construction Trades Council, distributed the neon signs that union members displayed during the meeting.

“I think the council got an education tonight from staff about how the industry works,” Struthers said.

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