Across the country, governors and state legislators are doing what they can to repeal the prevailing wage, but here in California, the Teamsters are bucking that trend and spearheading the effort to expand it. And so far, AB219, the bill that will close a loophole in prevailing wage law to cover ready-mix drivers on public works projects, is moving through the legislative process, having passed in the Assembly and in its first Senate subcommittee.
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 from an off-site facility, the driver doing the very same work is not eligible to be paid the prevailing wage. Known as the “material provider exemption,” this carve-out has ensured that Teamster employers who always pay the higher wage due to their union contract are at a disadvantage to non-union employers.
“When the Teamsters see a problem, we try to fix it,” says Secretary-Treasurer Rome Aloise. “Sometimes we take to the streets. In this case, we needed a legislative fix. This is another case that proves how important it is for us to be active politically.”
After enlisting Assemblyman Tom Daly (D-Orange County) to introduce a bill, the Teamsters are working closely with the State Building Trades Council and the California Labor Federation to get AB219 passed.
“We visited the capital in May,” says Local 853 Business Agent and Northern California Construction Committee chair Stu Helfer. “Teamsters lined the hallways and talked with dozens of Assemblymembers. We convinced them to support AB 219, which will help our drivers in the ready mix industry and level the playing field for our contractors who have to compete with lower- paying non-union companies.”
After that visit, the Assembly passed the bill in a partisan vote of 52-27, with all Democrats supporting it and all Republicans opposing it.
On June 24, the California State Senate Committee on Labor & Industrial Relations voted 4-1 to pass AB 219. The bill is now at the Senate Appropriations Committee before being heard on the Senate floor.
“This has been an uphill battle,” adds Aloise. “The contractors and even the public agencies lie when they say how much the increased wages will cost them. Our job is to tell the truth. Workers are wrongly being denied the prevailing wage. When this bill passes, it will raise the standards for ready mix drivers across the state to where they should be.”
“We expect that we have the votes in the Senate to pass it,” says Helfer. “Then we’ll just have to make sure that the governor signs it.”.