Employees in Mountain View will soon have increased labor protections thanks to a pair of ordinances passed by the city council Tuesday night – though some members of the public raised concerns that the ordinances don’t go far enough to protect workers on the city’s own projects.
The Wage Theft and Responsible Construction ordinances first came to the council in October 2021 as a study session item. Nearly a year later, the council had its first reading of the ordinances at its Aug. 30 meeting before passing the ordinances with a few adjustments at its Sept. 13 meeting.
The purpose of the ordinances is “to help ensure accountability and compliance with existing state wage and hour laws, enhance the protection of workers’ rights, and support the city’s existing minimum wage ordinance,” said Christina Gilmore, assistant to the city manager, at the Aug. 30 meeting.
In the case of the Wage Theft Ordinance, staff proposed that the business license process be used to connect with Mountain View employers and seek compliance with state wage and hour laws, according to the council report from the Aug. 30 meeting.
“As part of this process, all businesses would be required to submit an affidavit attesting that the business does not have any unsatisfied labor law judgments or orders,” the report said, and the city would investigate potentially false attestations on a complaint basis.
Similarly, for the Responsible Construction Ordinance, staff in 2021 proposed using the city’s building permit process to achieve wage protections for workers employed in construction projects. Owners, contractors and subcontractors on projects at and above 15,000 square feet would be required to submit a Pay Transparency Acknowledgement form at the beginning of the permit application process, and then a second Pay Attestation form before reaching the end of the project.
After the 2021 study session, staff made a few adjustments before bringing the ordinances back to council for the first reading on Aug. 30. For instance, businesses with no employees would be exempt from the wage theft ordinance requirements. Staff also incorporated stronger consequences for non-compliance with the Responsible Construction ordinance, such as the certificate of occupancy being withheld for failure to submit the form or in the case of a sustained complaint of wage theft.
During public comment at the first reading of the ordinances, members of the public called in to express their support for the ordinances, including a few local union tradespeople.
“In terms of construction, Mountain View has itself been the site of construction projects that have, frankly, been economic crime scenes,” said one Carpenters Union Local 405 member. “So these ordinances are much welcomed. In January of this year, the state labor commissioner found that a contractor in Mountain View cheated multiple workers out of wages while constructing in the city.”
But many who spoke said that the ordinances needed to go further to protect those on public works projects as well as day workers. Councilmember Margaret Abe-Koga asked staff to clarify if issues of wage theft were already included in existing city policy around public works projects.
“I guess I had assumed that with our responsible bidder requirement on public works projects that included issues like wage theft,” Abe-Koga said. “Is that not the case? … We should be including public projects if we’re going to ask the private community to do this.”
Public Works Director Dawn Cameron said for the city’s construction bidding projects, the city requires and includes in the contract that employers must comply with all federal, state and local labor requirements.
“That is fully enforceable under our contract and it would be in breach of contract if we found out they did not,” Cameron said.
Cameron suggested that city staff monitor the progress of other cities like San Jose that are currently working on ordinances that address wage theft in public works projects specifically.
“Just saying, ‘The city should just adopt its own ordinances and policies’ without us doing due research and confirming, could we actually do something that’s more effective, and what resources that would require – it would be a concern to us tonight,” Cameron said.
Abe-Koga suggested that as part of the city’s outreach for the Community Workforce Agreement, which is coming to the council in the near future, that city staff talk to building and trades folks to hear their concerns about the city’s current public works requirements.
“Perhaps through the CWA process we can enhance any areas that we need to strengthen our wage theft policies or anti-wage theft policies around public projects,” she said.
Cameron said the city was already planning to do so as part of its outreach process and would ensure that those groups’ voices are heard. Abe-Koga then made a motion to introduce the ordinances, which passed unanimously. The ordinances passed on the consent calendar at the Sept. 13 meeting.