Prevailing wage battle brews in Calif. for security companies

Local alarm officials work to return the state's prevailing wage on burglar and fire installations to its prior rate
Tuesday, November 1, 2005

SACRAMENTO, Calif.--Security industry officials are trying to turn back the clock on an increase to the state's prevailing wage requirement for publicly funded security projects, a change that has nearly doubled the hourly rate paid to technicians for some alarm companies.
While the increase means that security companies now pay their technicians more money for work on schools and government-related work, it is proving problematic for the industry. At some firms, it has pit technicians against one another in a fight over who will work the more lucrative public-sector security jobs over the lower-paying private-sector jobs.
"In some case that has just about destroyed some companies," said Arthur Webster, a consultant for the WBFAA Unilateral Apprenticeship Program, which is leading the fight against the higher prevailing wage hike.
The effort to lower the state's prevailing wage requirement as it pertains to security and fire projects began nearly two years ago. That was after an interim director of the Department of Industrial Relations unexpectedly adjusted the prevailing wage for the burglar and fire alarm industry to become commensurate with union electrical rates.
Since then the WBFAA has held numerous meetings with the department and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to return the state's prevailing wage on burglar and fire installations to its prior rate.
This is not the first time the security industry in California has dealt with union-related issues. The WBFAA created its apprenticeship program as a proactive approach to growing pressure for security technicians to follow electrical contractor licensing requirements.
Webster said the negotiations are ongoing, following a series of face-to-face meetings in recent months, but did not know when an agreement may be reached.
"It's very complicated to change the rates," he said.
The prevailing wage rate varies from county to county in California, but as an example, the increase means a security company would now need to pay its technician $40 an hour to install a fire system in a school. Previously, a security company would have paid a technician $26 an hour for the same type of work.
"That school has to pay us a heck of a lot more money for a fire installation if we use a prevailing rate," said George Gunning, president of the WBFAA and chief executive officer of USA Alarm Systems, a Monrovia, Calif., security company. "It adds a tremendous cost to putting in the system. It hurts the school districts and that in turn hurts the taxpayer."