Across the country, Republican governors and legislators are working to overturn prevailing wage laws that govern the pay of construction workers. However, here in California, Teamsters and our allies in the building trades are taking the offense and are working to expand prevailing wage coverage for union and non-union workers alike.
So far, AB219, introduced by Assembly member Tom Daly (D-Orange County) and shepherded by the Teamsters, is moving up the legislative ladder. When passed, this bill will finally close a loophole in the prevailing wage law so as to cover ready-mix drivers on public works projects. To date, the bill has passed in the Assembly and is waiting to be heard by the Senate Appropriations Committee.
What’s at issue? If a company has a batch plant on the site of their construction job, that work is covered by the prevailing wage. But if the concrete is driven to the job from an off-site facility, the driver doing the very same work is not eligible for the prevailing wage. Known as the “material provider exemption,” this carve-out has ensured that Teamster employers, who pay the higher wage due to their union contract, are at a disadvantage to nonunion employers who do not.
“AB 219 will not only put good money in our members’ pockets, but it will make our employers more competitive, creating more good Teamster jobs down the line,” Joint Council 7 President Rome Aloise told the Teamsters and labor allies at their first lobby day in Sacramento. “We’ve tried closing this loophole before, but it’s only now, that our political campaign has had success getting labor-friendly people elected to the legislature, that we truly have a chance.”
Joint Council 7 organized two lobby days in Sacramento in collaboration with the State Building Trades Council and the California Labor Federation. “We turned out more than 100 people including many rank-and-file ready-mix drivers,” says Joint Council 7 Political Director Doug Bloch. “It was an education for the legislators to meet face-to-face with real drivers whose jobs and paychecks will be positively impacted by the bill. I firmly believe this got us some critical votes,” Bloch adds.
“This is far from a slam dunk,” says Local 853 Business Agent and Northern California Construction Committee chair Stu Helfer who first suggested pushing the bill this session. “The opposition, including the non-union sector and even some public agencies, is strong and they’ve made up numbers about how much this bill will cost the state. Our job is to tell the truth and get workers the wage they deserve. When this bill passes, it will raise the standards for readymix drivers across the state to where they should be.”
“We expect that we have the votes in the Senate to pass it,” adds Helfer. “Then we’ll just have to make sure the governor signs it.”
In construction, another key way to get more jobs is through Project Labor Agreements (PLAs). Teamsters have been successful in getting PLAs that include on-haul and off-haul trucking, first at the Transbay Terminal in San Francisco, and next at the City of Berkeley and Berkeley Schools. These first agreements served as a springboard to get the trucking language into PLAs for 20 other municipalities and agencies across the Bay Area. “And those contracts, especially in the Bay Area, have the best language in the country on this issue,” Helfer says.
The union is now on the offensive in Oakland, trying to get this language into the renewal of the Port of Oakland PLA, known as the MAPLA. “The ready-mix drivers are already covered, but we need to add the on-haul and off-haul truckers. There’s probably five years of work for lots of Teamster drivers to bring out dirty soil and bring in clean soil to the old Oakland Army Base,” Bloch explains.
“Again, the key is getting labor-friendly people elected to office so they appoint good people to relevant commissions, like the Port Commission,” Bloch says. “We worked really hard in Oakland during the last election and swept the Mayoral and City Council races to be ready for this moment. I believe our hard work is going to pay off, resulting in more Teamster jobs.”