The California Department of Industrial Relations does not determine state prevailing wage rates for construction trades by surveying contractors or workers or by using statistics gathered by the California Economic Development Department. By law, the state uses union agreements to set prevailing wages. Thus, the prevailing wage is always the “union wage.” And the geographical region of a prevailing wage is based on the jurisdictional boundaries of the relevant union.
Calculating a prevailing wage starts when a union official provides the Department of Industrial Relations with its master labor agreement negotiated with representatives of contractors signatory to the union. State personnel then review the union agreement and identify all of the payments an employer is required to make per hour worked by an employee represented by the union. Those payments are assigned to categories identified in state law and added up to determine the prevailing wage.
For example, the state calculates the prevailing wage for a inside wireman electrician working in Sacramento County by identifying and adding up all the payments made by a National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) contractor per hour worked by an inside wireman represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local No. 340.
A prevailing wage determination includes a “Basic Hourly Rate” paid directly to the employee (from which union initiation fees and dues are deducted). Fringe benefits are categorized as “Health and Welfare,” “Pension,” “Apprenticeship and Other Training,” and “Vacation/Holiday.” There is also a Travel/Subsistence amount for workers who travel a certain distance from a certain location, as indicated in the master labor agreement.
Then there is the mysterious “Other,” comprised of payments to “worker protection and assistance programs or committees,” “industry advancement and collective bargaining agreements administrative fees,” and “other purposes” similar to those listed above. Basically, employer payments in master labor agreements that don’t fit in one of the direct employee fringe benefit categories get classified as “Other.”
“Other” was added to prevailing wage determinations on January 1, 2004 after the soon-to-be-recalled Governor Gray Davis signed the union-backed Senate Bill 868 in 2003. Union lobbyists and lawyers are very protective of this new category incorporated in prevailing wage rates and fought an effort in 2006 to impose regulations on it.
Federal and state law do not establish any specific regulations or reporting requirements for the trust funds that receive payments indicated in “Other.” Most of them file an annual Form 990 with the Internal Revenue Service, and they will file a Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) form when making a campaign contribution to a ballot measure. But union members are not informed about how these trust funds spend money, and these trust funds don’t need to file any reports with the federal Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS) or Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS).
During the past 16½ years, a little bit of taxpayer money has been diverted to these union-affiliated “Other” trust funds as workers represented by unions built government facilities and private developments with government funding. But now that “little bit” is becoming “quite a bit” in some cases.
On June 1, 2014, the master labor agreement for inside wiremen electricians in Sacramento County (and surrounding counties in the IBEW Local No. 340) increased Other from 47 cents to $3.47. On June 1, 2015, Other increased to $5.47. On June 1, 2016, Other increased to $7.47. The union informed the California Department of Industrial Relations that the money was going to “LMCT,” meaning a Labor-Management Cooperation Committee.
Provisions in the IBEW Local No. 340 master labor agreement suggest this LMCC is the Sacramento Electrical Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperation Committee. Gross receipts for this trust fund from June 1, 2014 to May 31, 2015 totaled $2,420,684. It gave a “distress grant” of $107,946 to the Shasta Butte Electrical Workers Training Fund. (94-2584061). It was also somehow “providing wage supplementation” to union employers to compete against non-union employers, perhaps through a program sometimes referred to as “job targeting.” No other specific expenditures are known.
Obviously “Other” is becoming a taxpayer-funded bonanza of millions of dollars to union-affiliated non-profit organizations that provide little information to union members, government, or the public. Consider the number of trades and the number of unions representing these trades in California. How much is being collected for “Other?” How is it being spent? Shouldn’t union members know where that money goes?
More relevant for the general public is knowing how much of that money goes to lobbying and campaigning. The California Department of Industrial Relations is supposed to exclude employer payments for political purposes from prevailing wage determinations. Perhaps the state needs to begin scrutinizing the expenditures of “Other” trust funds receiving $7.47 per hour on behalf of each worker.
Kevin Dayton is the President & CEO of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC, and is the author of frequent postings about generally unreported California state and local policy issues at www.laborissuessolutions.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaytonPubPolicy.