State Building and Construction Trade Councils of California, AFL CIO v. City of Vista Court of Appeal Decision

This most recent on the city charter exemption in State Building and Construction Trade Council of California, AFL-CIO v. City of Vista (4/28/09) D052181 (PDF), is a favorable one for city contractors who might do work for chartered cities. The court held that chartered cities are exempted from the requirements of the prevailing wage statute, Labor Code section 1720, et seq. under the municipal affairs clause of the California Constitution. The victory may be short-lived, given the number of amicus on this appellate decision, including California’s Attorney General, which filed a brief in support of the Building Trade Councils. The “municipal affairs exemption” is ripe for Supreme Court review. Those following prevailing wage cases will recall that many anticipated a decision from the California Supreme Court in City of Long Beach v. Department of Industrial Relations (2004) 34 Cal.4th 942 on the municipal affairs exemption but were disappointed when the California Supreme Court reached a decision on other grounds and failed to address the exemption.

Under the California Constitution, a chartered city is exempt from general state laws where its local laws conflict with the general state law over a purely municipal affair, unless the state law is a matter of statewide concern. California Federal Savings and Loan Association v. City of Los Angeles (1991) 54 Cal.3d 1. In City of Vista, the Court of Appeal reviewed the many exceptions and caveats to California’s prevailing wage law and ruled that California’s prevailing wage law does not address matters of “statewide concern.” The court held that the limitations and exceptions to the prevailing wage law “persuade us that municipal public works projects do not have such an extramural dimension as would warrant legislative intervention in an otherwise strictly municipal affair.” This decision was reached over the dissent of one justice. The dissent reached the conclusion that the prevailing wage law was of “statewide concern” and that chartered cities are not exempt from the prevailing wage law. It is likely that one of the losing parties will petition for review at the Supreme Court and it would not be surprising to see the California Supreme Court grant review and address the issue that it avoided in the City of Long Beach case.

This blog entry was authored by Stephen C. Tedesco.

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.