PORTLAND — One of Mayor Ethan Strimling’s initiatives is headed back to the drawing board, and action on a second was postponed Tuesday.
On Monday, the City Council’s Finance Committee, led by Councilor Nick Mavodones, decided against voting on a prevailing wage ordinance Strimling introduced last fall.
Instead, city legal staff will draft an ordinance that may award bonus points to bidders who meet wage provisions and provide safety training and an apprenticeship program to train new workers.
On Tuesday, the paid time-off ordinance Strimling proposed in September 2017 was supposed to go to the council’s Health & Human Services and Public Safety Committee.
Due to the arriving snowstorm, the meeting was postponed to an unspecified date in early March.
On Monday, Mavodones and Councilor Justin Ray said they were not ready to move the wage ordinance forward.
“I am not looking to pass anything here tonight,” Mavodones said. “What I would like staff to do is go back and look at a bonus system.”
Costa agreed with the principle, while concerned about the practice.
“The overarching idea here is one I don’t think there is any disagreement with,” Costa said.
Their comments came after an hour-long public hearing where workers and union representatives expressed their support for the proposal, compared with only two dissenting views.
As written now, the ordinance requires contractors and subcontractors on municipal jobs costing $50,000 or more to ensure workers are paid prevailing wages compiled annually by the state Department of Labor and specific to Cumberland County.
Strimling has said he wants the provisions to include the upcoming work on four city elementary schools funded by a $64 million bond approved by city voters in November 2017.
The proposed ordinance would mean all workers would have to have completed a 10-hour safety course “established by the U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety & Health Administration,” also known as OSHA.
Contractors would also have to participate “… in a job training or apprenticeship program registered with and approved by the Maine or U.S. Departments of Labor …”
While speakers in the hearing called apprenticeship programs essential for properly training a workforce as the current one ages, Mavodones and Costa are still troubled by a 2014 decision by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit in Boston that overturned an apprenticeship requirement in a Quincy, Massachusetts, ordinance.
The court decided the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act, known as ERISA, superseded how the Quincy ordinance required apprenticeship programs as part of municipal contracting.
“There is law on point that struck down what a city was doing – the exact same thing,” Costa said, adding it is the regional appeals court that could potentially hear an appeal on a city ordinance.
At a Feb. 6 Finance Committee meeting, city Associate Corporation Counsel Jennifer Thompson told councilors it was unlikely the city could write an ordinance that would not intrinsically withstand a challenge, including by using bonus points instead of a mandate.
On Feb. 8, Strimling said there are ways the city could defend an apprenticeship program not used in Quincy, a point Costa conceded Monday.
“I feel like what staff has told us is, we have an argument in court that gives us a leg to stand on,” Strimling said.
On Monday, Mavodones said he was not ready to move an ordinance forward and concerned about legal challenges, with a different view of city legal advice.
“It is at our own peril if we do not listen to our corporation counsel,” he said.
Portland City Hall, 389 Congress St.