‘Prevailing’ lunacy

A 2001 interpretation of California law prohibits volunteers from clearing stream beds, or doing any other unpaid work on a public project, writes Daniel Weintraub in the Sacramento Bee. Everyone is supposed to get the “prevailing” union wage, whether they want it or not.

The issue first surfaced in Redding, where some college students got class credit instead of pay when they helped a local group clear a brush-choked streambed. A union rep complained, and the state responded by fining the nonprofit group involved for violations of labor laws.

Now it turns out that creek restoration projects up and down the state are on hold because many of them rely on grants that, the state says, require them to pay everyone who works on the project a wage set by state regulators. No volunteering allowed.

And this might not end with streambeds. Redding is also struggling with the labor bureaucracy in its effort to build a new city park, in part with volunteer help. A member of a Sonoma County library advisory board tells me that his group fears local Rotary Club members won’t be allowed to landscape the library’s grounds. And it’s possible that groups such as Habitat for Humanity, which use volunteer labor to build homes for the poor, could be swept up by the same regulation.

In Oakland, a new labor contract pushed up costs for a school rehab from $1.8 million to $2.2 million, write columnists Matier and Ross in the San Francisco Chronicle.

About Joanne


  1. This is so insane as to make me want to foam at the mouth. Does the State have to f**k up everything it touches? The State condemned the rental houses at Crystal Cove, a local beach, got rid of the renters, and now–it’s Shantytown by the Sea!
    And op-ed writers wonder why there’s lack of community involvement.

  2. I have a vague memory of the union representing employees of an East Bay community college complaining because the CC hired goats to clear a weed-covered hillside instead of using employees.
    Anybody remember when, where?
    Should the goats have gotten prevailing wage?

  3. lindenen says:

    They need to repeal this damn law.

  4. It’s not just the law that’s the issue, but the unions that cause this. Stupid unions.

  5. The unions couldn’t do it if the legislators didn’t let them.

  6. Bill Leonard says:

    The entry and the posts say it all. I wonder: will I be the last rational person to leave the California pit toilet? (Trust me, I plan to do so as soon as I am able.)

  7. Walter Wallis says:

    Give them a choice – civil service protection or union membership – not both.

  8. PJ/Maryland says:

    I wonder if they could simply get volunteers who would agree to donate their wages back to the project? This might run into tax law problems, but otherwise would avoid having to get the California bureacracy to sign off on it.

    It’s ironic that the regulators, who are supposed to make laws work, sometimes make the laws not work; usually this is because they are busy trying to expand their purview, sometimes well beyond what the legislators envisioned.

    From the SF Gate article: “I was hoping the price didn’t appreciably go up,” said Tim White, head of facilities management for the school district.

    I’m tempted to say something about the grammatical abilities of the school district’s facilities manager, but realistically he was speaking off the cuff and the reporter didn’t clean up the quote. Let’s hope White doesn’t switch to teaching English classes.

  9. slimedog says:


    Sounds simple, but that STILL means the money passes through someone’s budget–so it has to be there in the first place–and the “volunteers” GET TAXED FOR IT. This is just another union/government scam.

  10. Jack Tanner says:

    ‘The unions couldn’t do it if the legislators didn’t let them.’

    Since they pay the legislators to do it they should get something for their money.

  11. This is what happens when you have one party rule, which in the case of California, is the Socialist Party. Don’t let that “Democrat” label fool you.

    I’m not sure that Arnold is going to be able to turn around the vast multitude of Socialist legislation.

    As my co-workers and I approach retirement age, the discussion is often about leaving California and which state we’re going to flee to.

  12. Unfortunately there is little hope of curing this sort of arrant nonsense since the party which has created it has ensured its stranglehold on power by some of the most vile gerrymandering I’ve ever seen.

    Until we find a way to put control of the legislature back in play I doubt if any attempt to get state government under control is possible.

  13. PJ/Maryland says:

    Sounds simple, but that STILL means the money passes through someone’s budget–so it has to be there in the first place–and the “volunteers” GET TAXED FOR IT.

    Slimedog, I was thinking volunteers would agree (in advance, in writing) to donate their pay, so it wouldn’t actually have to be issued. And I said there’d be tax problems. (Come to think of it, if the volunteer organization wasn’t a charity, the volunteers “pay donation” might not even be deductible.)

    Bill, gerrymandering only works when you have at least a sizable minority behind you. The California Senate, for example, has 40 members, each representing 850k people. Let’s assume only 1/3 of the people vote. So you would need 21 x ((1/3 x 425k) + 1) voters on your side to hold the Senate. That’s about 3 million (carefully arranged) voters, out of 11-odd million voters, or better than 25%; realistically, since you can’t arrange your voters/districts that precisely, you’d need something like 40% of the voters to maintain control.

    So, the goal is to get 60% to vote for someone besides the Democrats, at least for one election. This should be doable, judging by the results of the recall election.

  14. jeff wright says:

    Over time, I’ve found that Bill Leonard and I usually view the California scene in a like manner. “Pit toilet,” eh, Bill? A new one to me and I hope you don’t mind if I appropriate it for my own use.

    Closing on the sale of our San Jose house is next Wednesday. We plan to rent until April 2006, when we will depart California, with no regrets. This idiocy just reinforces the decision.

    Back in the late 70s, there was a CW song about “happiness being Texas in the rear-view mirror.” Pity that my home state has once again outdone Texas.

  15. Bruce Lagasse says:

    For those who are weighing the possibility of putting California in your rear-view mirror, might I put in a word for my new neck of the woods: the Reno, Nevada area (after almost 40 years in Los Angeles). We have Lake Tahoe, mild weather, reasonable housing prices (if you hurry), decent tectonic stability, liberal (in the good sense) concealed-carry-permit rules, no state income tax, and (so far anyway) not-as-bad-as-California political follies. “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free . . . .”

  16. Walter Wallis says:

    Hey, Bruce, you also have a bunch of scientifically illiterate senators who were willing for Nevada to cash 7 billion dollars in paychecks for Yucca Mountain, then went Luddite when it was time to get off the pot. The best excuse is that they want to blackmail the rest of the country some more, since their “concerns” are BS.

  17. Damn, that’s stupid. Not to be dense, but what’s stopping the volunteers from just going and doing it anyway? Are they going to start arresting people for clearing streambeds and planting flowers without a union card? Call the union’s bluff and let them make (even bigger) fools of themselves trying to stop you.

  18. Michelle Dulak says:

    Bryan C: A very good question. I suppose that, as it’s public land, State authorities could physically remove people trying to do the work without pay, but the political blowback would be tremendous.

  19. Mark Odell says:

    From the article:
    And it’s possible that groups such as Habitat for Humanity, which use volunteer labor to build homes for the poor, could be swept up by the same regulation.

    *sigh* Ah, sweet poetic justice….

    Kate wrote: Does the State have to f**k up everything it touches?

    Yes. [349 KB]

  20. Cousin Dave says:

    So what we are talking about, in effect, is that the state of California has made charities illegal. For any concievable charitable work (including administrative work for the charity itself), there is a union member who could have been making union wages doing that work. For any material goods donated to charity rather than thrown in the trash, a union member who would have been employed to make new goods has been displaced. For any money donated to the charity without the help of union fundraising, a professional unionized fundraiser didn’t get a union paycheck. (And don’t forget, the union members themselves cannot donate either, unless they get paid union wages for doing so!)

    PJ, I don’t think your idea would work because the volunteers would have to become union members first. Once the job becomes a union job, then the job openings are handed out by seniority; the volunteers wouldn’t get the job.

  21. El Castigador says:

    Unions exhausted their usefulness at the end of the last century.

    They are, however, a very strong and well funded political group.

    Don’t like to deal with the unions? Move to a “Right to Work” state.

  22. Oh, the unions are still here in ‘Right to Work’ states. Problem is, you tend to get ONLY those who like unions, since the others voluntarily opt out (and don’t have to pay union dues). So you get only the militant, the rabidly pro-union, the ‘me first’s with their hands out, and the out-and-out stupid as the core of union membership, with lots of followers who don’t have wit or backbone enough to reject the union.

    And the unions still negotiate the contracts, that apply to non-union workers covered under the collective bargaining agreements. So the smart ones who opt out let the union idiots negotiate on their behalf.

    The few times that I’ve seen a group attempt to get a union decertified (in other words, to throw the union out), the national arm of the union brings in the big guns and the threats and rocks and bullets start to fly. The earlier case of the union teacher ringleaders wearing bluejeans in defiance of the administration during contact negotiations is far from atypical, and it usually escalates to threats and violence – I know ours did last year. Everything from petty vandalism to assault.

    My father was a union man for most of his life, and what did it get him? The union leaders decided they needed more money for their personal perks, so they ‘dissolved’ the union’s retirement fund to supply money for their pet projects. This happened the year before my dad retired, and he got not a single penny. What could be done about it? Not a d*** thing, since the unions have successfully lobbied for minimal government oversight of their activities and use of money. And however ‘good’ you think your local union is (and it may do some good things, for you and for the community), odds are it is controlled at the top by organized labor, who continue to use unions as a front to launder money and hide criminal activities. That union rank-and-file wilfully ignore case after case proving this is just another sign of the stupidity of unions.