Prevailing Wage Update: Charter City Public Works Projects Are Not Subject to Prevailing Wage Requirements


Charter cities are not required to comply with California’s prevailing wage law with respect to construction contracts for public buildings, according to a July 2, 2012, California Supreme Court decision. The underlying facts in that case, State Building and Construction Trades Council of California AFL-CIO v. City of Vista, relate to an October 2007 resolution adopted by the Vista City Council approving contracts to design and build two fire stations. These contracts did not require certain minimum wage levels to be paid to the contract workers, allegedly in violation of the State’s prevailing wage law.

The Court’s decision was rooted in the California Constitution, which provides that the ordinances and regulations of charter cities supersede State law with respect to municipal affairs (Cal. Const., art. XI, § 5), and in case law holding that State law is supreme with respect to matters of statewide concern (California Fed. Savings & Loan Assn. v. City of Los Angeles (1991) 54 Cal.3d 1, 17). To determine whether the construction of the fire stations was a “municipal affair” or an issue of “statewide concern,” the Court undertook a three-part analysis, asking (1) whether the October 2007 resolution regulated municipal affairs; (2) whether there was an actual conflict between State and local law; and (3) whether the State law addressed a matter of statewide concern.

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