What is Prevailing Wage

California's prevailing wage law was enacted more than 50 years ago, by Governor Goodwin Knight. It's known as the Little Davis-Bacon Act. The original federal Davis-Bacon Act was passed in 1931.

Prevailing wage laws, both federal and state, were enacted for two reasons. The first was to ensure that skilled construction workers employed on public works projects would be paid at least the wages and benefits that "prevail" in their local communities. The second reason was to make sure that unscrupulous contractors would not import unskilled or low skilled workers from other parts of the country who would undercut the local workforce by working for lower pay.

The maintenance of the prevailing wage has resulted in the preservation of a highly skilled workforce in the construction industry. Comprehensive and demanding apprenticeship programs, made possible by a stable wage, have been set up by the construction unions. The graduates of those programs are highly trained workers who are fast, efficient, and safe.

In recent years, some states have abolished the prevailing wage, and are now experiencing negative results. A study performed at the University of Utah revealed that in those states there was a tripling of cost overruns on public projects, a 15 percent increase in construction injuries, and a 40 percent decline in apprenticeship training. All of this to save an estimated 1.7 percent in state construction costs.

Governor Pete Wilson tried to take California down that same road, but organized labor fought back, and won.

On June 1, 1999, Governor Gray Davis signed SB 16, authored by Senate President pro Tempore John Burton and Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa, protecting California's prevailing wage law.

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