By Steve Smith
California has long been committed to ensuring that anyone employed on a public works construction project earns a living wage. That just means the wages paid to women and men who build the public structures we all use aren’t driven into poverty. The wages are set by region based on cost of living and other factors to ensure that both workers and taxpayers are protected. It’s this kind of stability and fairness that ensures these important projects are completed on time by skilled professionals who do the job right.
But, like with many laws, there are loopholes. Drivers of ready-mix cement trucks who are employed by manufacturers are not covered under the state’s prevailing wage law, meaning those drivers don’t receive the same fair wages that other drivers doing the exact same work receive.
We’ve all seen a line of cement trucks preparing to pour on a construction project. Imagine that the first and third drivers are receiving a fair wage as required by law, while the second and fourth are receiving a substandard wage that makes it extremely difficult to support a family. Because of a loophole in the labor code, this isn’t just a theoretical scenario. It plays out daily on construction projects throughout the state. As a result, public dollars are used to suppress the pay of hard-working men and women without rationale.
But today, the state legislature took an important step to rectifying this inequity by voting to close the loophole with AB 219 (Daly) so that all cement truck drivers working on public projects earn the same fair wage. Earlier this week, dozens of workers from the State Building and Construction Trades unions and the Teamsters lined the halls of the Capitol to urge legislators to close this loophole and support good jobs. Their message was simple: all workers on a construction site deserve fair treatment on the job and a decent wage to support their families.
While passing this bill may seem like a no-brainer to most, it’s no shock that corporate lobbyists were coming out of the woodwork to oppose. Some big corporations like the loophole because it allows them to underbid responsible contractors who do the right thing by paying their employees a decent wage and offering healthcare and retirement benefits.
While there will always be corporations who try to get around the spirit of the law to cheat workers and pad their own bottom lines, taxpayers shouldn’t subsidize this inherently unfair practice. When workers are mistreated, it endangers the entire project. It’s in all of our best interest to ensure that workers doing the exact same work earn the same pay.
Governor Brown now has the opportunity to close the labor code loophole that treats workers differently solely based on who their employer is. By signing AB 219, the Governor would ensure that public works projects are completed by skilled professionals who earn a decent wage for a hard day’s work.