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The push to regulate Phoenix construction wages fails, but it's not dead yet

An effort by several Phoenix City Council members to regulate wages for certain workers failed Wednesday, but the issue is expected to return.

Half the council members want Phoenix to require companies that have construction contracts with the city to pay workers a prevailing wage — generally defined as the average wage paid to workers in similar positions. For decades, the federal government has required its contractors to pay at least prevailing wages

”It’s as simple as whether you support the workers or not,” said Vice Mayor Carlos Garcia. 

Councilmembers Laura Pastor, Betty Guardado and Yassamin Ansari signed a letter, along with Garcia, to bring the issue before the council. They all voted in favor of directing staff to prepare a prevailing wage ordinance consistent with the proposed language in the council packet.

Councilmembers Ann O’Brien, Jim Waring, Sal DiCiccio and Debra Stark voted no.

Mayor Kate Gallego’s vote broke the tie and defeated the proposal. She said after making it clear that she wanted stakeholders, like  businesses, labor groups and others involved in the process, a lobbyist pushed her to move forward with a vote and then, a few weeks later, sent her a document with similar language to what was being proposed during the council meeting. 

“I cannot condone that type of a process,” Gallego said, “It’s important to have public comment. We want to develop a policy that is legal in the state of Arizona and that reflects a robust public stakeholder process.”

Councilwoman Debra Stark suggested an alternative.

“You know I had an opportunity to talk to some developers that do affordable housing and they are really concerned about prevailing wage because of all the time it takes for paperwork and such and I asked several of them, ‘What do you think of a living wage?’ and they said they were open to it," said Stark.

Stark told KJZZ she would work with her colleagues to arrange stakeholder meetings to discuss living and prevailing wages. 

Two years ago, the council set the minimum wage for city employees at $15 per hour.

As a senior field correspondent, Christina Estes focuses on stories that impact our economy, your wallet and public policy.