Council gives preliminary OK to prevailing wage legislation
Share with others:
Prevailing wage rules that roiled Pittsburgh government for months flowed smoothly to tentative city council approval Wednesday, following last-day talks that smoothed the waters.
"It will literally change lives" by helping people out of poverty, predicted new Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak, who introduced nine of the 12 amendments that broadened support for the measure. "A prevailing wage absolutely will not be a deterrent for development."
The proposed rules had worried developers, business boosters and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who vetoed a similar bill on Dec. 31. Mr. Ravenstahl hadn't read council's amendments or decided whether to veto the legislation Wednesday. His narrower prevailing wage bill was shelved by council.
Council's vote was unanimous, so if that holds on final vote Tuesday, council could override a veto.
The legislation would apply to employers at future developments of 100,000 square feet or larger -- and future grocery stores of 25,000 square feet or larger -- that get $100,000 or more in city aid, including infrastructure work. Those employers would have to pay hotel, janitorial, grocery and cafeteria workers according to the median earnings of their peers citywide.
Calculating prevailing wages appears to require ranking the hourly earnings of all similar employees and using the wage of the worker in the middle of the list. Controller Michael Lamb, who would be charged with determining the prevailing wage, said he did not know how he would assemble the needed data.
Ms. Rudiak said she dived into discussions with the mayor, the city Urban Redevelopment Authority, the Service Employees International Union and council members including Patrick Dowd, who had sought to amend last year's legislation. "In some cases, we met people half way" with her nine changes, she said.
The changes were designed to better define what projects would be subject to the prevailing wage or to limit its impact. For example, the approved bill has a more precise method for calculating the prevailing wage and makes sure that general public works improvements near a subsidized project don't trigger the prevailing wage for that project.
She said she got into the contentious process because of what she saw while campaigning last year.
"When I was door knocking, I saw the effects of poverty in my neighborhoods," the Carrick councilwoman said, noting that some people had "two jobs and no health insurance."
Councilmen William Peduto and Doug Shields introduced three other amendments that came from talks with the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, a pro-business group.
"The amendments address some of the issues that we had raised," said Catherine DeLoughry, senior vice president for the conference, and they "improve the legislation."
Council bucked a city Law Department opinion, issued Tuesday, finding that it could not put conditions on actions by city-related authorities. Much city development activity is handled by the technically independent Urban Redevelopment Authority and that agency sought to have its aid packages exempted from the prevailing wage rules.
"The authority can't even breathe a breath without the consent and the authorization of this body," said Mr. Shields, later saying he'd do "unimaginable" things to the URA if it did not comply.
Broader living wage legislation would mandate payment of around $11.50 an hour, plus health insurance, for employees of the city, on city contracts, and at city-backed development sites. It is scheduled for a public hearing at 10:30 a.m. Feb. 8, and could come up for a vote any time after that.
First Published January 28, 2010 12:00 am