Nevada County opposes state’s prevailing wage proposal
Special to the Sierra Sun
The Nevada County Board of Supervisors has withheld support for a prevailing wage mandate recently passed by the state Assembly and is now moving through committee in the state Senate.
Supervisors voted 3 to 2 to submit a letter to state Sen. Dave Cortese, D-Santa Clara, of the Senate Labor, Public Employment and Retirement Committee, opposing Assembly Bill 1717. Supervisors Heidi Hall and Hardy Bullock were against sending the letter.
The prevailing wage is what the Assembly wants to happen, Supervisor Dan Miller said.
“This would basically cost more for vegetation management and we’d get less vegetation management accomplished,” he said. “How would they affect our county as far as prevailing wage and the projects in the pipeline for vegetation management or wildfire mitigation?”
Jeff Thorsby, county senior administrative analyst, said fuel reduction work done under government contract performed as part of fire mitigation projects is the definition of how this bill would work. That means, by default, it would require a prevailing wage be paid.
Trisha Tillotson, county Community Development Agency director, said many projects done with federal or state grants already pay prevailing wage.
But for smaller contracts done by local firms in the county, should AB 1717 become law, those smaller contractors could fall under the prevailing wage mandate, she said.
“It could increase cost by 30% and some of our local, smaller contractors may not bid at all, which has happened in eastern county,” Tillotson said. “But what comes to mind are contracting with smaller businesses for emergency response, and we have local guys come out and that could be impacted by prevailing wage. But our county employees would not be subject to prevailing wage.”
LEVEL PLAYING FIELD
Hall said that in the past some people were not doing the right thing, which is what led to the prevailing wage bill. She praised AB 1717’s author — Assembly member Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, D-Winters — for doing more than almost any other Assembly member for rural counties regarding fire management in the state. Hall said Aguiar-Curry knows what she was doing when she put the bill forward and that it would not negatively impact Nevada County.
“AB 1717 is leveling the playing field for that small group of people,” she said. “They do the hardest work on the ground under difficult circumstances, day in, day out, and it’s one of the most dangerous jobs out there. We don’t want to treat these people as if we don’t respect their work. Pay them what they’re worth so they can get health insurance, get into housing and support their families, or else they will fall by the wayside and otherwise they’ll come to the county for services — food and housing vouchers.”
However, Chair Sue Hoek expressed concern about how much the bill would cost Nevada County if the state Legislature brought it to the county level, particularly the elderly, who often need assistance with vegetation clearance.
“We are managing (fire fuel mitigation) as it is now,” she said.
Bullock said there are a number of unintended consequences that could result from either side of the issue.
“We have a labor shortage and there’s not enough people for brush clearance,” he said. “I think the grant stream will keep coming down to the county and keep small contractors busy.”
Supervisor Ed Scofield voiced concern that AB 1717 could have an impact on smaller contractors and affect smaller businesses. Miller also supported that reasoning.
“What employers can do under AB 1717 will reduce their workforce if they have to, to be able to afford it,” he said. “I don’t think the author of the bill thought it all the way through. I oppose it because of what the bill has the potential to do in rural counties.”
William Roller is a staff writer with The Union. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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