The Court reaffirmed that wage levels for locally funded public works are a "municipal affair" and not a "statewide concern" subject to state legislative control. Citing its decision 80 years before in City of Pasadena v. Charleville, the Court held that the city of Vista - as a charter city - was not required to pay prevailing wages in building two new city fire stations.
In 2007 the voters in the city of Vista had approved the city's conversion to a charter city - before the city undertook the construction and renovation of several public buildings. Following the conversion, the city adopted an ordinance under which it was not required to pay prevailing wages for its local public works projects. The State Building and Construction Trades Council of California filed a lawsuit when the contracts were approved, arguing the city was required to comply with the state's prevailing wage law. The city argued that prevailing wage issues are not a statewide concern and that charter cities have the legal right to determine whether or not to require prevailing wages. The Supreme Court reaffirmed that charter cities are not subject to the state's prevailing wage law.
"We conclude that no statewide concern has been presented justifying the state's regulation of the wages that charter cities require their contractors to pay to workers hired to construct locally funded public works," Kennard wrote.
In dissent, Justice Kathryn Werdegar called the majority's approach to the case "neither fair nor reasonable."
"By failing to appreciate the full impact of the prevailing-wage law, the majority significantly undervalues the statewide economic concerns the law addresses," Werdegar wrote.
A union spokesman, Sandy Harrison, said the ruling was disappointing.
"We had hoped that the court would understand that the downward pressure on wages in an entire region resulting from cities exempting themselves from the prevailing wage is very much a matter of statewide concern," Harrison said in a statement.