MONTPELIER — The passing of a Responsible Employer Ordinance for building contractors on municipal projects was hailed by city leaders and members of the building trades at City Hall on Tuesday.
Earlier this month, the City Council passed the new ordinance proposed by Councilor Conor Casey that requires the city to follow “good employer” practices when spending taxpayer money on contracted services.
The ordinance requires contractors or bidders for municipal contracts over $200,000 to ensure they are in compliance with the Affordable Care Act; notify employees they are entitled to receive the minimum prevailing hourly wage of $10.78 in Vermont; maintain a time sheet for weekly review by the city; and that they had not been barred from public projects in the city or the state.
Bidders or contractors are required to sign sworn statements to abide by the ordinance for the life of the contract, and are liable for violations and those of subcontractors. The ordinance bars violators from work on any future municipal contracts for six months for a first violation, three years for a second violation and permanently for a third violation.
At council meetings and public hearings, several representatives of the building trades said they had helped to build important city projects but could not afford to live in the city.
Casey noted that the city is going through a recent building boom with the completion of Taylor Street Transit Center and the shared-use recreation path, and a $16.5 million upgrade for the Waste Water Treatment Facility. The city is also proposing to build a $10.5 million parking garage.
Casey said construction workers are a “largely invisible” workforce that deserves recognition, employee protections and livable wages. He noted that federal protections under the Davis-Bacon Act, which seeks to ensure minimum wages are paid to workers under contract, had lagged in recent years.
Casey, who works as an organizer for the Vermont-National Education Association, representing more than 12,000 teachers in the state, said worker’s rights were something he felt strongly about and that he was concerned about wage theft and misclassification, gender and race discrimination for construction workers.
Guiding principles of the ordinance Mayor Anne Watson highlighted Tuesday include seeking to increase community prosperity and making the city an inclusive and equitable community. The city’s strategic plan also seeks to establish policies that ensure accessibility for all, and that all people are treated with dignity and respect, she added.
“The ordinance does just that,” Watson said, adding that she hoped the ordinance would become a model for other municipalities to adopt.
Danielle Bombardier, of Colchester, an organizer for the Local Union 300 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, thanked Watson and the City Council for their commitment to elevate the living standards of all construction workers.
She noted that although the state adopted the $10.78 minimum wage in 2016, Montpelier was the first city to adopt the law on a local basis.
“So, the city is really setting an example for cities across Vermont,” Bombardier said.
“Strong prevailing wage laws result in higher wages and benefits for workers, a higher quality of work by way of employing career professionals, better and safer job conditions, and ultimately, they result in hiring quality contractors who are held to the same high standards as is required by the responsible contractor language,” she added.
Larry Moquin, of Swanton, an organizer with The Laborers’ International Union of North America, said construction workers were overlooked for more than 20 years before the state adopted a prevailing wage.
“This is a win for construction workers in the state,” Moquin said.
“... It should also help on a state level because it should reduce subsidies that the state will have to pay to these workers because they’re being paid a livable wage with benefits. All in all, this a good thing, hopefully more cities will do it and I can’t thank the mayor and the council for doing this,” he added.
Casey said he was proud to introduce the ordinance and thanked Watson and the council and building trades’ representatives for playing an active role in helping to draft it.
“In Montpelier, we’re committed to being a beacon for other municipalities as the capital, whether that be energy efficiency, banning plastic bags in the state or something such as this (ordinance), so we are calling on other municipalities to adopt a similar ordinance, so there’s a level playing field across the state,” Casey said.
“If Montpelier is using taxpayer dollars to pay for the construction of these projects, we’ve an obligation to ensure that these people are treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve,” he added.
The City Council has also begun work on a Living Wage Ordinance, led by resident Michael Sherman, that is expected to come before the council for consideration in the spring, Watson said.