Look for middle ground on wage | May 17, 2013 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

Opinion - May 17, 2013

Look for middle ground on wage

As a city that has long supported union workers, it was surprising to see three City Council members indicate that they are leaning against paying the prevailing (union) wage on a contract to build 48 affordable housing units at 819 N. Rengstorff Avenue.

Last week John Inks, Mike Kasperzak, John McAlister and a conflicted Chris Clark managed to hold up making a decision, saying they are trying to get more value for the city by allowing non-union contractors to bid on the work. Those on the other side, Ronit Bryant, Jac Siegel and Margaret Abe-Koga, voiced strong opinions in support of paying the higher wages that match union scale.

Clark said he supports the prevailing wage in general, but has a problem when it comes to affordable housing. "That's where it gets a little bit trickier for me," he said last week. With the 3-3 split and Clark not ready to choose sides, the matter was referred back to staff for more study.

During the discussion, the council heard from one construction worker who supported the prevailing wage, saying he could could not live in the area if it were not for the higher wages he received. Another said, "If I didn't get the prevailing wage, I wouldn't be able to provide for my three daughters."

Mayor Inks had another perspective. "I think wage laws are very problematic because you artificially inflate pay scales at the expense of someone else." He went on to say: "It's a political decision about who is favored over another. People talk about exploitation — maybe there's a fine line between exploitation and choice — where are you willing to work?"

Kasperzak said he would expect residents to ask, "Why are my tax dollars going to ensure that some can work a project in Mountain View so they can live in Mountain View? Nobody is helping me live in Mountain View, other than than the market."

Kasperzak was responding to a comment by member Abe-Koga, who said, "You say we don't owe anybody the right to live here, but with affordable housing units, that is what we are doing. What's the difference between that and paying people who live here already?"

During the discussion, no specific pay scale was cited as the prevailing wage for carpenters, or other trades. And no one suggested a compromise that could resolve the conflict.

Admittedly, the prevailing wage is higher than that paid by non-union contractors. But the council members who are holding out for lower wages should remember that the city requires contractors on all other city projects to pay the prevailing wage. That is why it is so difficult to understand why the affordable housing project is different.

This is a situation with no middle ground, which makes the decision difficult for Clark. But we suggest he cast the final vote in favor of the prevailing wage There are ample funds for this, accrued from development fees that the city collects in the process of approving all housing projects. In fact, City Council members have complained that it is difficult to spend this money. There is more than enough on hand for the city's affordable housing projects while paying a prevailing wage to those who build them. They, too, should be able to afford to live in Mountain View.


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