Prevailing wage law pushed by unions could hurt charities that depend on volunteer help.
With the deadline for passing legislation looming Sunday night, Assemblyman Cameron Smyth has thrown a life preserver to nonprofits throughout the state that could be hit by a prevailing wage requirement to keep volunteers from doing what some consider a union job.
Smyth’s resolution would declare January as Volunteer Month, bringing attention to the valuable contributions made by unpaid workers and hopefully earning votes for a change to the state’s labor code to allow volunteers to contribute their talents to cash-strapped charities.
“Two bills this year that were in place to continue the extension (exempting nonprofit agencies from the prevailing wage requirement) have been killed, putting in jeopardy the thousands of nonprofit groups that depend on volunteers,” Smyth said, taking a short break from the Assembly floor. “Without that protection, nonprofits would be exposed to potential litigation because they rely on volunteers instead of union (prevailing wage) contractors.”
The problem started in 2002 when then-Governor Gray Davis signed into law a requirement that any group receiving state funding pay workers the prevailing wage for any public works projects.
Union representatives insisted that nonprofits be forced to pay workers, even if they were volunteers, putting charities in an impossible position. Legislation that amended the law, giving the groups a waiver from the requirement is scheduled to expire December 31, 2008.
Smyth introduced Assembly Concurrent Resolution 158, declaring January 2009 as State Volunteer Month to encourage people to donate their time and remind legislators of the significant contributions made by thousands of skilled Californians.
“I did this as a reminder that the nonprofits rely so heavily on them, it is a complete abrogation of our responsibility to not enact legislation to extend that sunset clause.”
Smyth and his fellow legislators face a weekend packed with 220 bills that will die in committee if they don’t pass by midnight Sunday.
“And we don’t even have a budget,” Smyth added.
While this legislative session officially closes Sunday night, the politicians must continue to work to solve the budget crisis that has brought hardship to hundreds of state employees and hurt some public service programs.
If he is reelected, Smyth is prepared to introduce new legislation in January to address the nonprofit dilemma.
”What we will probably have to do if the legislature does not act in the next 58 hours is add an urgency clause to new legislation, which would take effect immediately,” he said. “We can take action to protect those nonprofits, but it’s been frustrating to see a small, narrowly-focused group have such an impact on the legislature and hurt our nonprofits.”