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Contractor groups sue Phoenix over prevailing wage ordinance

Construction contractor groups are suing the city of Phoenix over having to pay employees the average local wage for workers in similar jobs.

Key to the case led by the Goldwater Institute is whether a prevailing wage is judged to be a type of minimum wage.

The prevailing wage ordinance recently approved by Phoenix replaces one the City Council passed and repealed last year.

A subsequent attorney general opinion says that a city’s authority over minimum wage means it can make contractors on public works projects pay a prevailing wage.

“It’s one lawyer’s opinion. It’s not binding on the court. And frankly, it’s completely wrong,” said John Thorpe, staff attorney for the Goldwater Institute. “Prevailing wage and minimum wage are completely separate things that are treated differently under the law.”

Thorpe’s clients are groups such as the Arizona Builders Alliance and the Associated Minority Contractors of Arizona.

A city spokesperson says Phoenix has not yet been served with their lawsuit asking a judge to void the new ordinance.

Thorpe said the ordinance is too burdensome on companies.

“It also gives one city bureaucrat virtually unfettered power to impose fines and other penalties. Even for minor or unintentional infractions,” he said.

Thorpe was referring to the city engineer, who is charged with enforcing the ordinance, and picking the judge of all appeals.  

Matthew Casey has won Edward R. Murrow awards for hard news and sports reporting since he joined KJZZ as a senior field correspondent in 2015.