Just days before prevailing wage ordinances were set to take effect for city construction projects in Phoenix and Tucson, an Arizona judge ruled in favor of contractor groups who challenged the laws, finding the ordinances violate state law.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Bradley Astrowsky issued a summary judgment June 24 in favor of the Associated Minority Contractors of Arizona, Arizona chapter of the Associated General Contractors and the Arizona Builders Alliance. The contractor groups filed a lawsuit against both cities and some officials in January after their respective city councils voted to pass the local prevailing wage laws.

The ordinances, which were both set to take effect July 1, would have required contractors and subcontractors to pay workers prevailing wages for city construction projects valued at $4 million or more in Phoenix and $2 million or more in Tucson.

At the time, Aaron Butler, president of the Arizona Building Trades, praised the move as setting “a positive example for all of Arizona” to guarantee fair wages for workers. “In an age of high inflation, it’s essential that cities and counties put workers first,” he added in a statement then. 

However, Arizona has a state law prohibiting cities from enacting an ordinance that would require prevailing wages on public works contracts. Attorneys for the cities argued that the state’s Minimum Wage Act, which originated as a ballot initiative, effectively repealed the state’s prohibition on local prevailing wage requirements. But the judge found that the Minimum Wage Act does not mention prevailing wage and wrote that it “did not impliedly repeal the prevailing wage prohibition.”

The decision “upholds the principles of a free market and removes unnecessary burdens from contractors,” said David Martin, president of the Arizona AGC chapter, in a statement.

Tucson Mayor Regina Romero said in a statement that she was "disappointed" by the ruling, and city attorney Mike Rankin said officials would review possible appeal options.

"Prevailing wages have been a tool to uplift our communities, improve our local economy and protect workers from being underpaid and taken advantage of," Romero said. "The City of Tucson will continue to find ways to create a better quality of life for workers and their families, as we’ve done previously."

Phoenix officials also passed a prevailing wage ordinance last year, but repealed it the next month amid questions of its legality, though the state attorney general's office issued an opinion supporting local authority.

Dan Wilson, a spokesperson for Phoenix, said the city would determine its next steps. Phoenix Councilmember Betty Guardado says she expected the city would be secure to move forward with the prevailing wage law after the opinion.The ruling is "a little bit devastating," she adds, but it is too soon to say if the city would appeal. 

"This was a way for folks to provide something better for their families, and it just got taken away from them," Guardado says. 

Phoenix Vice Mayor Debra Stark says she hopes the council will drop the effort at this point, though they could look into requiring a living wage when issuing RFPs or trying to encourage state legislators to amend the law. 

“If there’s a law on the books, right or wrong, we need to follow it,” Stark says.