By Sheri Williams
Angering construction workers and their unions across the state, Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed three bills late last year that would have ensured the payment of fair wages for members of the Building and Construction Trades, and all construction workers.
“It is unconscionable that our Governor would veto bills aimed at protecting and growing the middle class,” said Kevin Ferreira, Executive Director of the Sacramento-Sierra’s Building and Construction Trades Council. “Make no mistake, the Building Trades will fight for our members, and for all workers in California, to be paid fairly.”
Newsom vetoed the three bills on Oct. 13, after they had passed both houses of the legislature. The State Building and Construction Trades along with construction locals throughout California immediately condemned the anti-worker move.
“I’m only asking for hundreds of thousands of workers to be treated fairly,” Robbie Hunter, President of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California told media at the time. “It’s worth risking the scorn of this governor.”
In a statement at the time of the vetoes, Hunter said that, “By choosing to veto a series of bills that sought to stop profiteering developers from circumventing fair wage requirements for construction workers and requiring the payment of minimum wages in the construction of taxpayer supported public works projects, this governor has added his voice into the chorus of politicians that disrespect the contribution of blue collar workers. National politics provides us a cautionary tale of what happens when the working class is forgotten by candidates who are steeped in the ambitions of unrequited presidential aspirations. California could, and should, do better for workers and their families.”
Many of the bills were meant to address the growing affordable housing crisis in California. While there is little dispute that construction of new homes needs to increase, unions believe those new projects should be built with the highest standards, and that the women and men who build them should be able to afford to live in them. Without prevailing wages, union leaders said, the construction industry will continue to erode the middle class by hiring cheap non-union labor, often exploiting those workers not just with poor wages, but also unsafe working conditions.
“Newsom hasn’t just hurt our Building Trades members with these vetoes,” said Ferreira. “He has hurt every resident of California who is struggling to get by, who needs an affordable place to live, who wants to be sure they are sending their children to a safe school.”
The first bill vetoed by Newsom, Assembly Bill 520, would have ended the practice of developers and contractors receiving large taxpayer subsidies if they did not pay fair wages.
Next, Assembly Bill 1613 dealt with the construction of charter schools. It would have required charter schools built with public money to pay prevailing wages, as required in public school construction. By vetoing the bill, Newsom created a loophole to allow nonunion construction on schools that will serve public school students, putting those students at risk of construction done without the skills and expertise of union construction workers.
The final bill vetoed by Newsom was Senate Bill 5, which would have provided up to $2 billion annually for local governments to assist with the development of affordable housing. If it had passed, all of the projects that benefited from the funds would have been required to use a skilled workforce and pay prevailing wage. That bill has been reintroduced this year as Senate Bill 795.
Hunter said the vetoes aren’t the only sign that Newsom has turned his back on the Trades. Earlier in the year, he pulled back on the high speed rail project, which would have provided much-needed transportation around the state and which promised to employ Building Trades workers for years as the ambitious project was constructed.