State Bldg. & Constr. Trades Council of Cal. v. City of Vista

Decision Date02 July 2012
Docket NumberNo. S173586.,S173586.
Citation19 Wage & Hour Cas.2d (BNA) 395,54 Cal.4th 547,279 P.3d 1022,143 Cal.Rptr.3d 529,12 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 7560,2012 Daily Journal D.A.R. 9223
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
PartiesSTATE BUILDING AND CONSTRUCTION TRADES COUNCIL OF CALIFORNIA, AFL–CIO, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. CITY OF VISTA et al., Defendants and Respondents.


Altshuler Berzon, San Francisco, Stephen P. Berzon, Scott A. Kronland and Peter E. Leckman for Plaintiff and Appellant.

Edmund G. Brown, Jr., and Kamala D. Harris, Attorneys General, James M. Humes, Chief Deputy Attorney General, Gordon B. Burns, Deputy State Solicitor General, Christopher E. Krueger and Jonathan K. Renner, Assistant Attorneys General, Douglas J. Woods and Peter M. Williams, Deputy Attorneys General, as Amici Curiae on behalf of Plaintiff and Appellant.

Davis, Cowell & Bowe, San Francisco, John J. Davis, Jr., and Andrew J. Kahn for Northern California Mechanical ContractorsAssociation, Los Angeles Chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association, Air Conditioning, Refrigeration and Mechanical Contractors Association of Southern California, California Plumbing and Mechanical Contractors Association, California Sheet Metal Air Conditioning Contractors National Association, Associated Plumbing and Mechanical Contractors Association and Mechanical Contractors Council of Central California as Amici Curiae on behalf of Plaintiff and Appellant.

Law Offices of Carroll & Scully, San Francisco, Donald C. Carroll and Charles P. Scully II for Southern California Labor Management Operating Engineers Contract Compliance Committee as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Plaintiff and Appellant.

Law Office of Lawrence H. Kay and Lawrence H. Kay for Construction Employers' Association's as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Plaintiff and Appellant.

Weinberg, Roger & Rosenfeld, Alameda, Sandra Rae Benson, Patricia M. Gates, Roberta D. Perkins and Sharon Seidenstein for Northern California Basic Crafts Alliance, California Apprenticeship Coordinators Association, Jeff Armstrong, Tammy Castillo, Sumaria Love, John Bullock and Mavis McAllister as Amici Curiae on behalf of Plaintiff and Appellant.

Darold D. Pieper, City Attorney, Jonathan B. Stone, Deputy City Attorney; McDougal, Love, Eckis, Smith, Boehmer & Foley, Lounsbery, Ferguson Altona & Peak, James P. Lough, David M. Stotland; Richards Watson & Gerson, Los Angeles, and T. Peter Pierce for Defendants and Respondents.

Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo, Pleasanton, Robert Fried, Elizabeth P. Lind and W. Bryce Chastain for Associated Builders & Contractors of California as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Defendants and Respondents.

Patrick Whitnell and Kourtney Burdick for League of California Cities as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Defendants and Respondents.


A charter city entered into certain contracts for the construction of public buildings. A federation of labor unions then petitioned the superior court for a peremptory writ of mandate, asserting that the city must comply with California's prevailing wage law notwithstanding local ordinances stating otherwise. The prevailing wage law requires that certain minimum wage levels be paid to contract workers constructing public works.

Under the state Constitution, the ordinances of charter cities supersede state law with respect to “municipal affairs” (Cal.Const., art. XI, § 5), but state law is supreme with respect to matters of “statewide concern” ( California Fed. Savings & Loan Assn. v. City of Los Angeles (1991) 54 Cal.3d 1, 17, 283 Cal.Rptr. 569, 812 P.2d 916( California Fed. Savings )). Here, petitioner contends that the subject matter of the state's prevailing wage law is a “statewide concern” over which the state has primary legislative authority. ( Ibid.) The city responds that the matter is a municipal affair and therefore governed by its local ordinances. We agree with the city.

I. Facts

In 2006, the voters of the City of Vista in San Diego County approved a .5 percent sales tax to fund the construction and renovation of several public buildings. The proposed projects involved the seismic retrofit of an existing fire station and the construction of two new fire stations, a new civic center, a new sports park, and a new stagehouse for the city's Moonlight Amphitheatre.At that time, Vista was a general law city.1 IN FEBRUARY 2007, tHE vista city attornEy subMitteD a report to the city council recommending that Vista take steps to become a charter city. The report asserted that the conversion would give the city the option of not paying prevailing wages on its planned public works projects, “result[ing] in millions of dollars of savings over the next few years and beyond.”

The Vista City Council then authorized a special election for residents of the city to vote on a ballot measure that would change Vista from a general law city into a charter city. In the voter information pamphlet, the City Attorney Impartial Analysis told the voters that, as a charter city, Vista's city council “replaces the state legislature with regard to the municipal affairs of the City[, which] ... include bidding and contracting procedures....” (City of Vista Sample Ballot & Voter Information Pamp., Special Municipal Elec., June 5, 2007, analysis of Prop. C, p. 003.) That same point was made in the ballot argument in favor of the proposal, signed by the mayor and members of the city council, which also noted that the conversion would allow the city to “choose when and if it pays ‘prevailing wages.’ ( Id., argument in favor of Prop. C, p. 004.) There was no opposing ballot argument.

The ballot measure passed with approximately 67 percent of the votes cast. Shortly thereafter, Vista amended a city ordinance to prohibit any city contract from requiring payment of prevailing wages unless (a) such payment is compelled by the terms of a state or a federal grant, (b) the contract does not involve a municipal affair, or (c) payment of the prevailing wage is separately authorized by the city council.

In October 2007, Vista's city council adopted a resolution approving contracts to design and build two fire stations and authorizing the mayor to execute the contracts. The contracts did not require compliance with the state's prevailing wage law. A court action by plaintiff followed.

Plaintiff State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, AFL–CIO (the Union) is a labor federation composed of 131 local unions, 16 district labor councils, and 22 local building trades councils that collectively represent more than 300,000 men and women working in the construction industry in California. The Union petitioned the San Diego County Superior Court for a peremptory writ of mandate to direct Vista and its officeholders to comply with the state's prevailing wage law. Vista countered that prevailing wage issues are not a statewide concern, and that “charter cities have the legal right to determine whether or not to require ‘prevailing wages' in local public works contracts that involve locally funded, ‘municipal affairs' under the California Constitution and the laws governing charter cities.” The Union moved for issuance of a peremptory writ of mandate. The Union argued that the prevailing wage law “addresses important statewide concerns” and therefore it applies to charter cities “just as it applies to other cities.” In support of its petition, the Union submitted a declaration of its president, Robert L. Balgenorth, asserting the regional nature of the construction industry and describing apprenticeship training in that industry. Vista opposed the motion, arguing that as a matter of law “Charter Cities have fiscal control over local ‘municipal affairs' and these Cities can determine whether to include ‘prevailing wage’ requirements in local public works contracts.”

The trial court denied the Union's petition, citing Vial v. City of San Diego (1981) 122 Cal.App.3d 346, 175 Cal.Rptr. 647.Vial concerned a city council resolution adopted by San Diego (a charter city) that barred payment of prevailing wages except in specified circumstances. The state sought to compel the city to comply with the state's prevailing wage law. ( Id. at p. 347, 175 Cal.Rptr. 647.) The Court of Appeal in Vial upheld the city's resolution, stating that the expenditure of city funds on public works projects and the rates of pay of workers hired for such projects are municipal affairs of a charter city over which the state has no legislative authority. ( Id. at p. 348, 175 Cal.Rptr. 647.)

The Union here appealed. In a two-to-one decision, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court. After observing that both the legislative record and the trial court record were inadequate to establish that application of the prevailing wage law to charter cities is necessary to protect regional labor markets, the Court of Appeal concluded that the Union had failed to prove the existence of a statewide concern. In the dissent's view, however, the wage levels of contract workers constructing public works can have a depressive effect on regional wages, and therefore they are a statewide concern.

We granted the Union's petition for review to decide whether the state's prevailing wage law applies to charter cities.

II. Discussion
A. California's Prevailing Wage Law

In 1931, the California Legislature enacted the state's prevailing wage law. 2 That law, which was then entitled the Public Wage Rate Act, required contractors on “public works” projects to pay “the general prevailing rate of per diem wages for work of a similar character in the locality in which the work is performed.” (Stats.1931, ch. 397, § 1, p. 910.) The term “public works” was defined as work done for public agencies and work paid for with public funds. ( Id.,§ 4, pp. 911–912.) The law expressly referred to charter cities in a provision requiring such cities to pay prevailing wages in contracts for street or sewer improvement work. ( Ibid.)

Earlier the same year, ...

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