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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Will prevailing wage bill prevail?

Posted By on Wed, Nov 18, 2009 at 9:47 AM

As you may have heard by now, city council has introduced legislation that would require paying a prevailing wage to custodial, food-service, or other employees employed at projects that receive city tax-subsidies. 

The legislation has been talked about for months now, and is the first of a handful of initiatives designed to improve labor and environmental standards at city-backed developments. Presumably, the measure will be discussed more fully at next week's city council meeting. But for now, a few things are worth noting. 

First, the bill has seven co-sponsors. Among them are outgoing councilors Tonya Payne and Jim Motznik (who got a big attaboy from labor figures and other supporters outside council chambers yesterday). NOT among the sponsors are Patrick Dowd and Ricky Burgess. 

Payne and Motznik's support is notable because they are usually staunch allies of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl -- and the mayor opposes the bill. (You may recall a protest at the mayor's office concerning the legislation over the summer.)

Dowd and Burgess' opposition is notable, in part because Burgess is mounting a bid to be council's next president. Dowd, meanwhile, ran for mayor against Ravenstahl earlier this year ... strange to see him less committed to the bill than Payne and Motznik. 

Dowd cautions that while he didn't co-sponsor the bill, that doesn't mean he'll vote against it. Not being a sponsor, he says, "positions me to maybe bring people together in a conversation -- progressives, developers who are dead-set against it." 

But Dowd does strongly object to the bill's timing. "I find it unacceptable that they are introducing this so late. We're in the middle of budget season now, and we have pretty significant budget issues." That will prevent a meaningful discussion of the bill, he worries ... and the bill is too important to pass without  that conversation. 

"If this legislation is so great -- and I'm open to it being so -- let's not shoot it in the foot with some legal problem that results in its being overturned in court," Dowd says. "I'm definitiely receptive to the idea, but I've got a lot of questions. Can the city show us data on projects that we have funded that would meet [the bill's requirements]? Let's look at what percentage of jobs already meet those wages, and what percentage would benefit from the legislation." 

Dowd also objects that "they've talked about a whole package of changes -- and we're looking at just one part of that." The reform's environmental components shouldn't be left to the side, he says. That initiative is backed by the Sierra Club, which has backed Dowd in the past "and who I support. I'm not interested in supporting these reforms piecemeal."  

Dowd suspects the fact that the "folks introducing the legislation think they have votes now that they may not have in the future."

That may sound odd, given that Motznik -- the nominal mayoral ally -- is being replaced in just a couple months with Natalia Rudiak. During her council run, Rudiak enjoyed copious support from the SEIU, who are big supporters of the prevailing wage bill. Payne, meanwhile, is being replaced by Daniel Lavelle ... and city councilor Bill Peduto, who backs the prevailing wage legislation, campaigned actively on Lavelle's behalf.

I'm making calls to some bill sponsors, to give them a chance to address Dowd's concerns about the bill's timing. I'll post that here. 

But this much seems clear: This vote wouldn't be easy for Rudiak and Lavelle -- especially when they haven't even had a chance to adjust the height on their office chairs. As Chris Briem noted last spring, for example, even as Rudiak won her district 4 race, voters in that part of the city were also giving Luke Ravenstahl his widest margin of victory. Would it be smart to put Rudiak in such a tight spot between her backers and her constituents?

When a bill has seven co-sponsors -- a veto-proof majority -- you might think passage would be easy. But don't break out the champagne just yet.

 

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