Push for charter cities enrages unions

Part 1 of a series on charter cities.

Sept. 30, 2012

By Katy Grimes

SACRAMENTO — The November election is shaping up to be a biggie, and probably even a game changer. In addition to California’s tax increase ballot initiatives and the paycheck protection measure, voters in three California cities will decide whether to approve the proposed city charters.

Escondido, Costa Mesa, and Grover Beach, currently general law cities under the California Constitution, are asking voters to allow the change to charter cities.

The change from a general law city to a charter city is technical, even obscure, but very powerful. Charter cities have significantly more autonomy and flexibility than general law cities to protect taxpayer funds through more careful spending, and exemptions from state-mandated prevailing wage agreements and Project Labor Agreements.

Many Californians believe that the only for cities way to wrestle control away from powerful public employees unions is to file municipal bankruptcy. But Charter Cities are a much better way to accomplish this.

Charter Cities

“A charter needs to give a city full control of its municipal affairs, so it can implement lower taxes, reasonable regulation, fiscal responsibility, limited government, local control and more freedom from corrupt urban legislators,” according to Kevin Dayton, CEO of Dayton Public Policy Institute, an employment and labor specialist, and charter city expert.

There are 121 charter cities in California out of 482 cities. But not all charter cities avail themselves of the prevailing wage exemption. There are currently 70 cities with no exemption, 10 cities with a partial exemption and 41 charter cities with full exemption, according to the California Construction Compliance Group.

The 70 cities with no prevailing wage exemption even include many of the state’s more politically liberal cities: Alameda, Berkeley, Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz and Santa Monica. Included in the list are Stockton, San Bernardino and Vallejo — three of California’s cities to file for bankruptcy.

“Defenders of the status quo prefer California’s advocates of economic and personal freedom to be apologetic, mealy-mouthed, submissive and ineffective. I noted that an ideal charter, with its ‘defiance of excessive state authority,’ would enrage numerous special interest groups,” Dayton said.

That is exactly what has happened.

Dayton said that unions have steamrolled right over smaller cities’ efforts to adopt a charter. “Union leaders get very testy when someone points out that a charter city can establish its own policies concerning government-mandated construction wage rates,” Dayton said.

“Did you know that, under certain home rule provisions in California’s state constitution, voters can exercise a greater degree of local control than that provided by the California Legislature?” the League of California Cities explained. “Becoming a charter city allows voters to determine how their city government is organized and, with respect to municipal affairs, enact legislation different than that adopted by the state.”

Labor Smackdown

A recent California Supreme Court decision will actually help taxpayers bring some balance to the extreme positions coming out of state government.

The Supreme Court upheld the right of California’s 121 charter cities to establish their own policies about government-mandated prevailing wages in municipal construction projects.

This is big, and it is a smack down to California’s arrogant labor unions.

Charter cities

California’s 121 charter cities maintain a governing system defined by the city’s own charter document rather than by the state.

The Supreme Court ruling is significant because it upheld that the state’s charter cities are not required to pay prevailing wages under state law for local public works projects that are funded by local taxpayer funds.

In State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, AFL-CIO vs. City of Vista, the court confirmed that California charter cities maintain the autonomy to be able to decide whether to pay prevailing wages for local construction projects. It’s a step in the direction of the free market.

While some of the recent California cities to file for bankruptcy, including Stockton and San Bernardino, are charter cities, being a charter city does not lead to insolvency as many in the media would have Californians believe.

Los Angeles and San Francisco are also charter cities. Plenty of California’s cities, other than charter cities, are facing financial meltdown. However, being a charter city allows flexibility.

California’s charter cities first were established in the 1870s during difficult economic times, and in response to the state meddling in city affairs. A constitutional revision granting municipalities the charter option was approved and cities revised their own charters.

The beauty of charter cities is that, when used properly, the charter allows them more flexibility to cut costs and use revenues wisely, unlike most state mandates, which always favor certain special interests. This gives a city more control in making decisions more in line with local issues and needs.

But not everyone agrees.

“With a majority of the state’s largest cities chartered and thus suffering from unchecked wages, workers are being hurt statewide,” a story in the Daily Kos reported. “The high court of California had the opportunity to right this wrong but instead sided with the cities and bucked the Building Trades Council which represents 131 local unions in California.”

To understand this thinking, it is important to read further. “Prevailing wage laws are meant to protect wages across the industry, not just for union workers or workers in a given region,” the Daily Kos writer reported. “Republicans argue that such laws are outdated, but it is difficult to argue that preventing unscrupulous contractors from underbidding on contracts only to make up the difference on the backs of workers is a concept with an expiration date.”

What is difficult is to argue that supply and demand don’t matter, or that different regions and locals don’t have differing pay scales and needs.

However, Stockton and San Bernardino were not availing themselves of the ability to not pay higher prevailing wages, whereas most charter cities seek to pay wages more in line with the local economy.

“Significant and recent developments in proposed city charters in California have been related to explicit provisions concerning the establishment of policies for government-mandated prevailing wages, prohibitions on requiring contractors to sign Project Labor Agreements with unions, and requirements for unions to get permission from city employees to deduct money from their paychecks to use for political purposes,” Dayton explained. “In addition, some charters have contained provisions meant to prevent the kind of corruption among city council members and city staff that occurred in the City of Bell in the late 2000s.”

Dayton said that voters need to seriously consider approving the charter city proposals. “If you support lower taxes, reasonable regulation, fiscal responsibility, limited government, local control and more freedom from corrupt urban legislators, vote yes on the charters. If you believe citizens are not yet giving enough of their money to the government, vote no on the charter.”

Look for Part 2 of this Charter Cities series soon.


Write a comment
  1. us citizen
    us citizen 30 September, 2012, 10:26

    Well this seems like a no brainer.

    Reply this comment
  2. Mike
    Mike 30 September, 2012, 11:00

    Outstanding!!! AND a good way to rid ourselves of all of that freeloading union scum at the negotiating table!! TAXPAYERS FIRST!!!!

    Reply this comment
  3. SeeSaw
    SeeSaw 30 September, 2012, 11:02

    Now, are you going to balance out your argument for charter cities with the telling of the saga of what happened with the City of Bell? The one where only about 400 of 4000 vcters approved Bell’s transition from a general law to a charter city. That worked out real well, didn’t it.

    Reply this comment
  4. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 30 September, 2012, 11:14

    Seesaw cites Bell, one bad apple out of 121 charter cities, or less than 1%, and only that 1 b/c of criminal actions from PUBLIC EMPLOYEES.Those public scammers…errr..employees worked out real well, didn’t it.

    Go home seesaw, your tired old scams are over and done with. Eveyone knows the scam you and your criminal cronies engage in, and the jig is up.

    Reply this comment
  5. Queeg
    Queeg 30 September, 2012, 15:08

    The poodle is WRONG AND MEAN SPIRITED as usual.

    Reply this comment
  6. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 30 September, 2012, 15:34

    Teddy, your comment made me cry 😉

    Reply this comment
  7. Bob Smith
    Bob Smith 30 September, 2012, 17:24

    What, pray tell, did Bell’s change of status to a charter city have to do with its corruption in city leadship?

    Reply this comment
  8. Bob
    Bob 30 September, 2012, 20:07

    Okay, let’s go for charter counties. I am fed up with being jerked around by Sacramento. Does anyone have a take on that?

    Reply this comment
  9. The Africanized Swarm of Ted Steele System
    The Africanized Swarm of Ted Steele System 1 October, 2012, 08:22

    LOL– Great Headline——- The unions are ENRAGED I tell you—- ENRAGED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply this comment
  10. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 1 October, 2012, 08:35

    Rizzo is your future king!

    Reply this comment
  11. SeeSaw
    SeeSaw 1 October, 2012, 09:36

    Bob Smith, it was Bell’s corruption that allowed the change from general law to charter status, in the first place. They knew that the residents were low income, unsophisticated regarding such matters. The new charter status allowed those officials to pay themselves whatever they wanted, with no interference from the state. And, FYI Bob, the City council members were receiving salaries of $100K+. The changes of status from general law to charter allowed that to happen.

    Reply this comment
  12. The Africanized Swarm of Ted Steele System
    The Africanized Swarm of Ted Steele System 1 October, 2012, 10:11

    All Hail King Rizzo ™

    Reply this comment
  13. queeg
    queeg 1 October, 2012, 12:33

    King Rizzo learned his craft from Lord Jim and King George and EEEEDEEE A-MEAN, those nasty colonialists and globalist guys know how to really get the locals on CWD going……

    Reply this comment
  14. City charters will be the only hope in Calif after '12 elections
    City charters will be the only hope in Calif after '12 elections 1 October, 2012, 15:52

    This charter city movement is a free market offensive happening under the radar, because what political newspaper reporter in the state knows what’s happening at all the local governments? Only CalWatchdog knows what’s going on.

    There’s a well-organized, well-connected promotional campaign for city charters now. Obviously too many cities in California will have charters on the June 2014 ballot for the unions to stop them all. The unions will have to get voters to repeal this section of the California Constitution. Just collect another $43 million like they have to oppose Proposition 32, and they’ll get the repeal.

    P.S. – this charter business is getting out of control for the unions! Here’s another one: at its meeting tomorrow (October 2, 2012), the Murrieta City Council will discuss asking their citizens to enact a charter.


    Reply this comment
  15. Mark Flannery
    Mark Flannery 1 October, 2012, 17:24

    Under California law, public safety unions may have binding interest arbitration (BIA) of labor disputes, if authorized by local procedures, but only in charter cities. Several charter cities (e.g., Vallejo) have struggled to do away with BIA, believing it has been a major factor in driving up the cost of labor. BIA is not permitted in non-charter (i.e., general law) cities.

    I’m always surprised that articles about the prevailing wage issue don’t mention this. On one hand, cities that are pursuing charter status wish to reduce the impact of prevailing wage requirements with private sector unions, yet they open themselves up to the possibility of BIA with their police and fire unions.

    Reply this comment
  16. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 1 October, 2012, 23:27

    Mark, Bindinf arbitration happens in very few cities and it is in ANY city. Vallejo had BA and they are not a charter city.

    Reply this comment
  17. Mark Flannery
    Mark Flannery 2 October, 2012, 10:19

    This is a from the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce web site, about two years ago, I believe:


    Twenty two cities in California currently have some form of binding arbitration, but only 13 cities, including San Luis Obispo, have used it. Already, some cities are regretting the decision to put binding arbitration on the table.

    In June 2010, voters in the City of Vallejo passed Measure A which repealed the binding interest arbitration requirement from the City’s charter.

    In November 2010, voters in the City of Stockton passed Measure H which repealed the binding interest arbitration requirement for firefighters. Also in November voters in the City of San Jose passed Measure V, which amended the city’s binding interest arbitration provision to require arbitration decisions to be based primarily on the city’s ability to pay and prohibit any decision from creating an unfunded liability.

    Reply this comment

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