State Issues

Why does Kristin Olsen want workers in her county to get paid less?

Sadly for the people of Stanislaus County, whom she represents, Supervisor Kristin Olsen has allowed herself to be used as a mouthpiece by interests that would prevent many of her hard-working constituents from earning a living wage.

Olsen cited dubious sources and questionable statistics in her call for the Legislature to pay prevailing wage protections for California construction workers on some taxpayer-subsidized residential construction projects (“Prevailing wage rule for home builders would impoverish California,” June 8).

Fortunately, Olsen’s former colleagues in the state Assembly, after a lengthy review, saw through these arguments. On May 31, they voted overwhelmingly in favor of Assembly Bill 199 that would ensure prevailing wage rights to construction workers on housing projects put forward by successors to the redevelopment agencies that went out of business in the 2011 Budget Act.

The 60-14 margin united the so-called “progressive” and “moderate” wings of the Democratic Party caucus. AB199 also attracted significant Republican support.

AB199 is popular for the same reason that prevailing wages have been popular since they were enacted in the earliest years of the New Deal: they ensure that construction workers will be fairly compensated for their work on projects where taxpayers are footing the bill.

Economic justice is only part of the story, though.

Prevailing wages provide top-flight contractors the best, most highly skilled, streamlined and professionally trained workforce in the business. Some 400,000 workers have gone through our apprenticeship programs and contractors know that when they hire these workers at the area’s prevailing wage rate, they’re going to get the job done once, done right, with the least amount of people, in the least amount of time.

Home builders, of course, are well aware that defects from shoddy workmanship – the and insurance policies required to fix them – dramatically drive up the cost of residential construction.

All a prevailing wage law demands is that contractors pay their workers the minimum wage rate that prevails for a job category in their community, as established by the free market. Why would anybody in elective office want their constituents to make any less?

Olsen is right to highlight the national disgrace of poverty in the richest state in the richest country in the world. She also is correct to point out California’s hugely problematic jobs-and-housing imbalance, where workers are forced to live in lower-cost counties such as Stanislaus while commuting unbelievable distances toward the coast where they can find work and where it pays better.

No segment of the workforce knows this imbalance better than the 14,000-plus construction workers who live in Stanislaus County. It’s not right for anyone to ask them do their jobs for anything less than what the market says their skills and dependability are worth.

Bobby Stutzman is the Secrretary Treasurer of the Stanislaus, Merced, Tuolumne and Mariposa Building and Constructions Trades Council. He wrote this for The Modesto Bee. Email: