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Unions seem to be main opposition to charter, councilmen say

Local workers disagree with potential council control over wages
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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City officials say unions are the driving force behind a campaign to dissuade Auburn from considering becoming a charter city. A recently launched Facebook page and website voices the concerns of a group that claims to be made up of Auburn residents. The Facebook page and website, auburncharteralert.org, are against a city charter and officials say unions are driving the opposition. Local leaders are responding saying they don’t want Sacramento representatives “meddling” in Auburn and a charter is a good step for the city. Auburn resident Robert Hane, a retired operating engineer, said he is not part of the group that formed either Internet page, but he supports their general message. “I definitely support the fact that Auburn the way that it’s incorporated right now, I think it’s worked quite well,” Hane said. Hane said he hasn’t seen anyone at City Council meetings in favor of the potential change and he believes the charter’s possible exemption from prevailing wage is an important topic in the discussion because the “living wage” is what allows workers to live and buy in the community. “You know we are in dire straits, so to come back and cut the working people … I don’t see anybody in government trying to cut these other programs,” Hane said. “They just keep cutting the working class.” The draft charter, composed by Councilman Kevin Hanley, would allow for an exemption from paying prevailing wage on projects fully funded by the city, such as sewer repairs. The exemption would not apply to any projects receiving state or federal funding. Hane said even those who are not in unions enjoy the rate at which union workers are paid, so the negative response in City Council meeting discussions to the exemption makes sense. “That is why you are seeing such an outcry from the public,” Hane said. “Most paying jobs are based on union jobs. Most union jobs fit prevailing wage standards, which is the minimum you can pay an individual for performing a certain task.” In the past Hanley has said the exemption is just an option and the city can look at it on a project by project basis and decide to use the exemption or not. Loomis resident Dan Kern, an operating engineer who has spoken in opposition of the charter at a past City Council meeting, said he is not involved in the Facebook page or website, but agrees with it. “I would support that,” Kern said. “I’m an operating engineer by trade, but I represent workers. I represent people from Auburn Placer Disposal and Cal Trans workers in Auburn. I’m in support of anything for fair treatment for workers.” Kern said he doesn’t believe Hanley’s statement about looking at projects individually in terms of whether or not the exemption will be used. “I think that’s a clever disguise, for who would really be the one making that decision?” he asked. “How would they look at it? How would they have the time to look at it? That’s just sort of his way of deflecting it. I don’t think he genuinely means that.” Those who created the Internet pages were unavailable for comment as of press time Wednesday. Hanley said he doesn’t agree with those who say the council should not have the opportunity to have more control over its decisions, including whether or not it uses a prevailing wage exemption on projects. “The whole charter is about local control, and this is just one aspect, and it gets a lot of play because there are opponents mainly from Sacramento who don’t like it, who don’t want us to have that choice,” Hanley said. “What they are saying is that they think these kind of decisions should be made in the Legislature in Sacramento rather than in Auburn, and I fundamentally disagree.” When asked about the Facebook page and website, Hanley said he doesn’t think they are the appropriate way to talk about the issue. “The website and the various blog entries on the Auburn Journal (website) attack City Council members personally, so they are trying to change the subject,” Hanley said. “I think our representative system is based on people standing up for their views and anyone making personal attacks is not consistent with how public policy is done in Auburn.” Mayor Bill Kirby said the people he has talked to in the community are in support of putting the charter on the ballot, and unions seem to represent the only real opposition. “They are probably the only people that we have had even comment against (the charter) are unions about prevailing wage,” Kirby said. “I think the predominant issue is … the issue of being able to get out from under some state regulations, which will allow us to function more efficiently.” Kirby said at this point in time he has not decided for sure whether or not he wants to put the charter on the ballot, but he is leaning toward doing so. Kirby said he has no intention of looking at the Internet pages and will only discuss the charter in a public forum. Kirby said he would not push to remove the prevailing wage exemption because of the reaction it has received in council meetings. “It’s one more thing that allows the city flexibility, and I absolutely would not change that at all,” he said. “That’s not the overriding issue for me. If my vote is to send it to a ballot, I think it should be sent the way it is and the citizens can make those decisions.” Bob Snyder, Auburn planning commissioner and member of the Auburn Chamber of Commerce board, said the board voted to support putting the charter on the ballot, and that he personally supports that as well. “Absolutely, it should be on the ballot,” Snyder said. “The driving factors for me are (the exemption from prevailing wage on city projects) allows (the city) to keep the sewer rates low, definitely an opportunity to keep them low and not pay more than we need to make improvements. The other big one is the state Legislature is constantly meddling with different kinds of requirements for the city to jump through hoops without the funding, and I think it would clean up a lot of that. We would be in charge of our own affairs, not just subject to the whims of the state Legislature.” Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com