California’s “Prevailing Wage” – Floor Vacuuming at $45.93/Hour

California State Assemblyman Curt Hagman (R-Chino Hills) is introducing a bill to address one of the numerous absurdities in California’s prevailing wage law: the $38-46 per hour wage paid to laborers who clean up construction sites after taxpayer-funded construction is finished.

As revealed in a 2009 state wage enforcement action against a construction company working under a contract in the Antelope Valley Union High School District in Los Angeles County, such work entails “vacuuming, dusting, cleaning and polishing windows, walls and floors.”

Some Californians might consider $12 per hour to be a reasonable wage for this low-skill work, especially when so many school districts are funding massive building programs with borrowed money, thus taking on a staggering amount of debt for future taxpayers. Is it wise fiscal management for school districts to sell Capital Appreciation Bonds with outlandish compound interest payments in order to pay $45 per hour for someone to push a vacuum?

And in fact, the state does recognize a wage rate at about $12 per hour for janitorial work. California Public Utilities Code Sections 465-467 require public utilities to pay prevailing wage rates for labor of a custodial or janitorial nature, and therefore the California Department of Industrial Relations determines wage rates for this kind of work.

How Does California Now Determine Mandated Wage Rates for Construction Cleanup?

But vacuuming up the lingering sawdust at a construction site is considered a construction trade, because such work is classified within the work assignments listed in the applicable collective bargaining agreements of the Laborers Union.

Under Section 1773 of the California Labor Code and Title 8, Subchapter 3 of the California Code of Regulations, the State of California determines “prevailing wage” rates in most cases by obtaining the union collective bargaining agreements for each trade in each geographical region of the state, adding up all of the payments indicated in these agreements, and declaring the total to be the “prevailing wage.”

Wage rates include fringe benefits and employer payments to “other” funds that do not directly benefit the employee. And the same wage for the same work applies to non-union workers.

For Southern California, the Department of Industrial Relations sets the total straight time hourly “prevailing wage” for a journeyman in the Group 1 classification of “Laborer, General Cleanup” at $45.93.

This amount is based on the following payments in the collective bargaining agreement negotiated between the Southern California District Council of Laborers and three contractor associations – Associated General Contractors (AGC) of California, Building Industry Association (BIA) of Southern California, and the Southern California Construction Association:

  • $28.09 in basic wages
  • $6.81 to the union health and welfare program
  • $6.00 to the union pension program
  • $3.90 to the union vacation and holiday program
  • 64 cents to the union apprenticeship program
  • 49 cents for “other” payments that go to a variety of union-managed funds not for the direct benefit of the employee.

For Northern California, the state-mandated total straight time hourly “prevailing wage” rate for a journeyman in the Laborers Group 4 trade classification applies to the following:

Final cleanup on building construction projects prior to occupancy only. Cleaning and washing windows (new construction only), service landscape laborers (such as gardener, horticulture, mowing, trimming, replanting, watering during plant establishment period) on new construction.

The total straight time hourly wage for that classification is $39.02 in the San Francisco Bay Area and $38.02 in other counties of Northern California. These amounts are based on the collective bargaining agreement negotiated between the Northern California District Council of Laborers and Associated General Contractors (AGC) of California.

In San Diego County, the state-mandated total straight time hourly “prevailing wage rate for a journeyman in the Group 1 classification of “Laborer, General Cleanup” for commercial building is $43.27. This amount is based on the collective bargaining agreement negotiated between the Southern California District Council of Laborers for San Diego County and Associated General Contractors – San Diego Chapter.

What Are the Chances of Establishing a Reasonable State-Mandated Wage Rate for Construction Cleanup?

If you were an official or lobbyist for the Laborers Union in California or for the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, would you give permission to Governor Jerry Brown and the Democrats in the legislature to undercut the high wage rates that your union negotiated with union contractors for “vacuuming, dusting, cleaning and polishing windows, walls and floors?” Of course not!

In negotiating their collective bargaining agreements, construction trade unions actually enjoy a kind of quasi-regulatory authority, because their final agreements are the basis for the state-mandated construction wage rates. They are loath to compromise this power.

In the 2011-12 state legislative session, Assemblywoman Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) introduced Assembly Bill 987, a comprehensive and technically-precise bill that would have reformed the state’s calculation of prevailing wages so that state-mandated construction wage rates are reasonably accurate and based on actual local market conditions. The Assembly Labor and Employment Committee rejected the bill on a party-line vote: Republicans in support, Democrats opposed.

Regarding the specific wage rate for construction cleanup, taxpayers could adopt several strategies in addition to Assemblyman Hagman’s legislation in order to prod the California Department of Industrial Relations to determine a reasonably-accurate state-mandated wage rate for “vacuuming, dusting, cleaning and polishing windows, walls and floors.” But unions will resist any challenge to the status quo, unless they exercise their own power to negotiate and accept a special construction cleanup classification – with more common sense wage rates – in their own collective bargaining agreements.

Kevin Dayton is the President and CEO of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC and is the author of frequent postings about generally unreported California state and local policy issues at