California 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 first concluded that Vista’s October 2007 resolution approving the fire station construction contracts involved municipal affairs because the fire stations were facilities operated by the City for its inhabitants and financed with the City’s own funds.  Second, the Court acknowledged an actual conflict between State and local law because the prevailing wage law did not exempt charter cities and the City’s resolution prohibited compliance with that law.  Finally, although it considered many creative arguments, the Court identified no statewide concern that might justify the State’s regulation of wages that charter cities require to be paid to workers on locally funded public works projects.  Because the construction of City-operated fire facilities for the benefit of its inhabitants was found to be a quintessentially municipal affair, the Court therefore held that the contract for the construction of the fire stations was properly governed by the City’s own ordinances and not State prevailing wage law.