Prevailing Wage Ordinance

The San Luis Obispo County Prevailing Wage Ordinance – SLO County Code 2.48.180

In the years leading up to the adoption of the prevailing wage ordinance, San Luis Obispo County employees had become increasingly frustrated at the low pay and poor working conditions they were being subjected to on a day to day basis.  This growing frustration amongst county employees, coupled with a seemingly uncaring and indifferent attitude displayed by the county leadership of the day, served to motivate county employees to make their case directly to a sympathetic electorate.

Turning their frustration into action, these county employees, working through the San Luis Obispo County Employees’ Association, effectively made their case to county voters and won approval of a ballot measure during the November 1972 election cycle. The resulting ordinance, (as amended in 1984), is codified as section 2.48.180 of the San Luis Obispo County Code.

The specific language of the ordinance states as follows:

“In fixing compensation to be paid to persons in the county’s employ, the board of supervisors and every other authority authorized to fix salaries or wages, shall provide a percentage change in compensation at least equal to the percentage change in compensation for the same quality of service rendered to persons, governmental agencies, firms or corporations under similar employment.

Prevailing salaries or wages shall be determined by negotiations between the county’s employer representatives and the recognized employee
organization(s).

In case such prevailing salaries or wages cannot be agreed to by parties, the matter may be submitted to a mutually selected arbitrator who shall make advisory recommendations to the negotiation parties.”

For the better part of four decades (approx. 1973 – 2010), the county and SLOCEA have interpreted this ordinance to mean that wages would be based upon a wage formula, which compared the wage and benefits of our local employees to that of employees who were employed in other California counties.

The standard of determining compensation for County employees by comparing their compensation to the compensation paid to employees in other California counties is also codified in the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act, Gov. Code Section 3505(d).  That section, which provides guidance to fact-finders tasked with determining appropriate compensation for a group of public employees, specifically lists as one criterion:

(d) Comparison of the wages, hours, and conditions of employment of the employees involved in the factfinding proceeding with the wages, hours, and conditions of employment of other employees performing similar services in comparable public agencies. (Gov. Code Section 3505(d); emphasis added)

For nearly 40 years, the County acknowledged that comparable public agencies were employees who are employed in other California counties.

Sadly, in recent years the county unilaterally decided to depart from this long standing interpretation of the prevailing wage ordinance.  In October 2010, acting on the recommendation of then newly appointed HR Director, Tami Douglas-Schatz, the Board of Supervisors adopted its so called “three point labor plan.”

In her staff report to the Board of Supervisors on the three point labor plan Director Douglas-Schatz made the following comments:

“the current implementation of the prevailing wage ordinance has resulted in contractual annual formulaic wage increases of 2% to 7% even during statewide economic decline and the County budget crisis.”

Thrusting herself into the shoes of the county electorate, the Douglas-Schatz further commented that:

“It is highly doubtful that the voters intended to virtually guarantee increases year after year without considering the financial state of the County”. Also, that the “County must break the cycle of issuing wage increases based on previously negotiated formulas. Instead of automatically issuing pay increases based upon the wage survey, the County must utilize survey data as a basis for negotiations. Staff will continue to use this new approach when negotiating and implementing the prevailing wage ordinance with all represented and unrepresented employees”.

With the adoption of Douglas-Schatzthree-point labor plan the prevailing wage formula used by SLOCEA and the county for nearly 40-years ceased to exist in the eyes of the Board of Supervisors.

Since that time SLOCEA has been working vigorously to try and persuade the county to return to the traditional application of the prevailing wage formula, but the county has so far been intransigent in its position.

SLOCEA will continue to work diligently in future negotiations to try and persuade the county to return to a more traditional application of the prevailing wage formula. Additionally, SLOCEA reserves that right to enforce the rights of its members under the prevailing wage ordinance in any court or tribunal of competent jurisdiction.