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Phoenix repeals prevailing wage ordinance after new councilmembers sworn in

One month after passing a controversial wage ordinance, the Phoenix City Council has repealed it. The action came two days after two new councilmembers took their seats.

The narrowly-approved ordinance would have required construction companies on certain city projects to pay prevailing wages, generally defined as no less than the average wage paid to workers in similar positions. The March 22 vote came as a last-minute request by some council members and was not vetted by Phoenix’s attorney.

“I know what happens when we don't follow legal advice,” said new Councilwoman Kesha Hodge Washington, a former assistant Arizona attorney general. If our goal is to get something passed, we shouldn’t move forward with something that we know is flawed.”

Hodge Washington replaced Carlos Garcia in District 8. Garcia, along with Vice Mayor Yassamin Ansari and Councilwomen Laura Pastor and Betty Guardado requested last month’s vote.

At Wednesday’s meeting, new councilman Kevin Robinson also voted to repeal saying, “Based on the information that our city manager has provided and what the possible cost would be, that is of concern to me.”

More than $90 million was the rough estimate. Money well spent, according to Councilwoman Betty Guardado.

“People in our city are struggling every day to make ends meet, and we have a responsibility to stand up for them and their families,” she said.

Several people who identified as being with labor unions asked the council to keep the ordinance.

Mayor Kate Gallego said, “For folks in the labor movement, you will benefit more if we do something legally that lasts and follows good established procedures. It is more important to have public policy that sticks than a quick victory that is easy to overturn.”

Phoenix also faced a legal challenge over whether it violated a state law that appears to bar cities from enacting such ordinances. After repealing it, the council directed staff to research prevailing wages, hold focus groups with labor unions and contractors and present a proposed ordinance before the end of the year. 

A prevailing wage ordinance has come up a few times in the past three years. In October 2021, Vice Mayor Carlos Garcia and Councilwomen Guardado, Pastor and Ansari voted to direct staff to prepare a prevailing wage ordinance. Mayor Kate Gallego and Councilwoman Debra Stark voted no, along with Councilmen Jim Waring and Sal DiCiccio. Last month, DiCiccio changed his vote to a yes, which led to the short-lived ordinance. DiCiccio, who termed out and retired, was replaced by Kevin Robinson.

Some city projects that receive federal funding adhere to prevailing wages based on the Davis-Bacon Act, which directs the U.S. Department of Labor to determine local prevailing wage rates for construction projects.

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