SAN JOSE, Calif. - Labor unions and a coalition of supporters are trying to put a measure on the ballot next year to make contractors hire locals and pay them prevailing wages.
Trades people are convinced more than ever the public is behind them. A survey they commissioned says 75 percent of voters would back their fight to require medium and large residential and commercial projects to hire locals and to pay them market-rate wages.
"Nobody's going to become a millionaire being a plumber or a carpenter or an electrician, but they want to be able to support their family, send their kids to school, maybe retire some day with some level of dignity," Bill Guthrie with the Plumbers and Pipefitter's Union said.
They stood outside a downtown San Jose condominium project, one of several underway or soon to break ground. Some have made commitments to hire local and to pay union wages. Others have not.
The on-site office of the owner, Full Power Properties, posted a sign it did not want to be disturbed. No one answered the phone at the company's San Francisco headquarters.
Will smith is a San Jose native who just bought a house last year for his family. He's an electrician.
He says higher wages spent by local hires stay in the community. "We are the people who work hard, who put in our blood and our sweat into building these projects, and we are the people that come back and spend money at these projects, at these restaurants and all these different developments," Smith said.
A spokesperson for the associated builders and contractors regional chapter doesn't agree that san jose voters will support the proposed ballot measure, citing how it can raise the cost of construction more than 10 percent. The contractors group also says the proposal goes against fairness and competition.
The unions acknowledge it won't be easy. "It's very difficult because the bottom line for them is the most important thing-profits. But, it's doable for sure," Josue Garcia with the Building Trades Council said.