County Attorney
José R. Rodríguez


Monday - Friday
8:00am to 5:00pm

500 E. San Antonio
5th Floor, Suite 503
El Paso, Texas 79901
Phone (915) 546-2050
Fax (915) 546-2133
comments
@ca.epcounty.com

 

  • El Paso County Attorney Prevailing Wage Rates
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  • TESTIMONY BEFORE SENATE SUB COMMITTEE ON BORDER AFFAIRS REGARDING STATE AND LOCAL PREVAILING WAGE RATES MARCH 27, 2001


  • TESTIMONY BEFORE SENATE SUB COMMITTEE ON BORDER AFFAIRS REGARDING STATE AND LOCAL PREVAILING WAGE RATES MARCH 27, 2001 GOOD AFTERNOON:

    I'M JOSE RODRIGUEZ, EL PASO COUNTY ATTORNEY. AS COUNTY ATTORNEY, I REPRESENT EL PASO COUNTY AND THE EL PASO COUNTY HOSPITAL DISTRICT IN CERTAIN MATTERS, INCLUDING ADVISING THEM ON LOCAL PREVAILING WAGE RATE DETERMINATIONS AND PAYMENT OF PREVAILING WAGES ON PUBLIC WORKS PROJECTS.
    I AM THEREFORE FAMILIAR WITH THE STATE LAW REQUIREMENTS UNDER CHAPTER 2258 OF THE GOVERNMENT CODE, AS AMENDED BY SENATE BILL 311, GOVERNING THE DETERMINATION OF PREVAILING WAGES IN PUBLIC WORKS CONSTRUCTION CONTRACTS. SENATE BILL 311 ATTEMPTS TO CLOSE THE GAP IN PAY FOR SIMILAR WORK PERFORMED ON STATE CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS IN DIFFERENT PARTS OF THE STATE. WHILE THIS LAW IS A STEP TOWARDS ACHIEVING PAY EQUITY, I FIRMLY BELIEVE THAT THE LEGISLATURE MUST EQUALIZE PAY THROUGHOUT TEXAS BY MANDATING THAT THE HIGHEST PREVAILING WAGES BE PAID ON ALL STATE CONSTRUCTION CONTRACTS.

    REGARDING LOCAL CONSTRUCTION CONTRACTS THE LEGISLATURE SHOULD AGAIN PASS A LAW SIMILAR TO S.B. 350, COAUTHORED BY SENATOR LUCIO, BUT UNFORTUNATELY VETOED BY GOVERNOR PERRY, AFTER THE 77TH LEGISLATIVE SESSION. S.B. 350 WOULD PERMIT SCHOOL DISTRICTS LOCATED IN A COUNTY ALONG THE BORDER WHERE THE PREVAILING WAGES ARE BELOW THE FEDERAL POVERTY LEVEL TO REQUIRE THAT A PUBLIC WORKS CONSTRUCTION WORKER FOR THE DISTRICT BE PAID NO LESS IN WAGES THAN WOULD EQUAL THE FEDERAL POVERTY LEVEL FOR A FAMILY OF FOUR. SINCE THE PURPOSE OF S.B. 350 IS TO INSURE WORKERS ARE PAID WAGES NOT LESS THAN THOSE EQUAL TO THE FEDERAL POVERTY LEVEL, THE CONCEPT SHOULD BE EXTENDED TO OTHER GOVERNMENTAL BODIES SUCH AS CITIES AND COUNTIES.

    EL PASO AND THE BORDER

    MY VIEW IS SHAPED BY THE ECONOMIC REALITY OF EL PASO AND THE STRATEGIC INVESTMENT AREAS OF THE STATE, THAT IS, COMMUNITIES WITH ABOVE AVERAGE UNEMPLOYMENT AND BELOW AVERAGE PER CAPITA INCOME, FOUND ALONG THE BORDER AND CERTAIN PARTS OF THE STATE. IN "BORDERING THE FUTURE", A REPORT ON THE BORDER REGION ISSUED IN 1998 BY THE TEXAS COMPTROLLER OF PUBLIC ACCOUNTS, THE OBSERVATION IS MADE THAT IF THE 43 - COUNTY BORDER REGION WERE THE 51st STATE, IT WOULD RANK 1st IN POVERTY, 51st IN PER CAPITA PERSONAL INCOME, AND 51st IN AVERAGE ANNUAL PAY IN CONSTRUCTION WORK. (EXHIBIT A) DURING THAT SAME YEAR, BUSINESS LEADERS, ELECTED OFFICIALS, AND OTHERS CONVENED THE EL PASO ECONOMIC SUMMIT AND REACHED THE FOLLOWING CONCLUSIONS:

    EL PASO HAS A 40% PER CAPITA INCOME GAP RELATIVE TO THE NATIONAL AVERAGE(EXHIBIT B)

    A SOURCE OF THE INCOME GAP IS LOW WAGES AND SALARIES (25 % LOWER THAN THE NATIONAL AVERAGE) (EXHIBIT C)

    EL PASO'S 1995 AVERAGE ANNUAL SALARY IS 80% OF TEXAS AND 77% OF THE US AVERAGE ANNUAL SALARY (EXHIBIT D)

    EL PASO'S ECONOMIC GROWTH LAGS BEHIND OTHER BENCHMARK CITIES LIKE AUSTIN, PHOENIX, AND ALBUQUERQUE (EXHIBIT E)

    IN SHORT, LOW WAGES CONTRIBUTE TO BAD ECONOMIC CONSEQUENCES WHILE HIGHER WAGES LEAD TO ECONOMIC PROSPERITY, EFFECTS WHICH APPLY NOT ONLY TO EL PASO BUT TO ALL OF TEXAS. THE BENEFITS OF PAYING HIGHER PREVAILING WAGES WHY SHOULD TEXAS PAY THE HIGHEST PREVAILING WAGE RATES THROUGHOUT THE STATE? APART FROM RAISING THE STANDARD OF LIVING, PROMOTING FAIR COMPETITION FOR STATE CONTRACTS, AND ENHANCING QUALITY WORKMANSHIP, HIGHER WAGES MAKE SENSE FOR AT LEAST THREE OTHER REASONS. FIRST, IT IS MY UNDERSTANDING THAT TEXAS HAS A LONG ADOPTED POLICY OR PRACTICE OF PAYING ITS STATE WHITE COLLAR WORKERS A FAIRLY UNIFORM SALARY REGARDLESS OF WHERE THEY WORK. YET, WHEN IT COMES TO EMPLOYEES OF STATE GOVERNMENT CONTRACTORS, WE PAY DIFFERENT WAGES FOR IDENTICAL SERVICES PERFORMED BY EQUALLY QUALIFIED WORKERS DEPENDING ON THE REGION THE WORK IS PERFORMED. THUS UNDER THE STATE'S CURRENT SYSTEM OF PREVAILING WAGES, THE TEXAS BUILDING AND PROCUREMENT COMMISSION ADOPTS WAGES FOR A CARPENTER IN AUSTIN AT $18.60 AN HOUR, WITH $2.71 IN FRINGES (EXHIBIT F), COMPARED TO CARPENTERS IN EL PASO AND CAMERON COUNTY WHOSE WAGES ARE RESPECTIVELY PEGGED AT $7.96 (EXHIBIT G) AND $7.02 (EXHIBIT H) AN HOUR, WITHOUT FRINGE BENEFITS, FOR SIMILAR WORK. WHILE SENATE BILL 311 RAISES THE CAMERON COUNTY CARPENTER'S WAGES TO $10.36 AN HOUR, THIS WAGE RATE IS STILL FAR BELOW THE RATES IN AUSTIN OR OTHER CITIES LIKE DALLAS AND HOUSTON. THE STATE IS NOT IN THE SAME SHOES AS THE PRIVATE EMPLOYER, WHO STRIVES TO PAY THE LOWEST WAGES IT CAN TO MAKE A HIGHER PROFIT; THE STATE'S INTEREST INSTEAD IS TO BENEFIT THE PUBLIC GOOD BY RAISING THE STANDARD OF LIVING OF ITS CITIZENS AND PROMOTING THE CONCEPT OF EQUAL PAY FOR EQUAL WORK.

    A SECOND REASON TO ADOPT A POLICY OF PAYING THE HIGHEST PREVAILING WAGES THROUGHOUT THE STATE, IS THAT BY DOING SO, WE WILL BE HELPING RAISE THE TAX BASE OF ALL COMMUNITIES, THEREBY REDUCING THEIR RELIANCE ON STATE FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE. DESPITE BEING THE 19TH LARGEST CITY IN THE NATION, EL PASO RANKS 156TH IN ITS TAX BASE. SO ITS NO SURPRISE THAT THE STATE MUST EARMARK LARGE SUMS OF PUBLIC FUNDS TO ADEQUATELY FINANCE ITS SCHOOLS, ITS HEALTHCARE PROGRAMS SUCH AS MEDICAID, AND ITS TREMENDOUS INFRASTRUCTURE NEEDS.

    FINALLY, GIVEN THE BORDER'S "BOTTOM OF THE BARREL" ECONOMIC STATUS REPORTED BY THE STATE COMPTROLLERS OFFICE, THE STATE MUST COMMIT TO A POLICY OF RAISING INCOMES ACROSS TEXAS. WE SIMPLY CANNOT REMAIN COMPETIVE IN A GLOBAL ECONOMY, WITH ONE OF THE FASTEST GROWING YOUNG LABOR FORCES, IF THE STATE CONTINUES PROMOTING PAYMENT OF SOME OF THE LOWEST WAGES IN THE NATION. BY SUPPRESSING WAGES, THE STATE INSURES THAT ITS BEST AND MOST QUALIFIED WORKERS WILL SEARCH FOR WORK ELSEWHERE, AS CURRENTLY HAPPENS IN EL PASO WHERE ITS SKILLED WORKERS EITHER WORK IN OR MOVE TO STATES LIKE NEW MEXICO AND NEVADA DUE TO MUCH HIGHER BUILDING TRADES WAGES.

    CONCLUSION

    IN CONCLUSION, THE STATE OF TEXAS MUST TAKE STEPS TO REVERSE THE NEGATIVE ECONOMIC CONSEQUENCES OF MAINTAINING A WAGE RATE SYSTEM FOR STATE AND LOCAL PUBLIC WORKS CONTRACTS THAT DISCRIMINATES ON THE BASIS OF REGIONAL BOUNDARIES AND PREVENTS SEGMENTS OF THE STATE FROM SHARING IN ECONOMIC PROSPERITY. IN THE END THE STATE PAYS FOR ITS MISGUIDED POLICY THROUGH HIGHER PUBLIC ASSISTANCE FUNDING TO ECONOMICALLY DEPRESSED COMMUNITIES. WHY NOT PAY STATE PUBLIC WORKS EMPLOYEES DECENT WAGES SO THEY, INSTEAD OF THE STATE, CAN TAKE CARE OF THEIR OWN NEEDS? THANK YOU.