By Don Greene / Escondido Democratic Club
At the final public hearing on the proposed city charter, Mayor Abed was cavalier enough to admit that he was “championing the charter proposal” and that while it was about home rule, mostly it was about preventing the city from having to pay prevailing wages. What’s the big deal with prevailing wages, anyway?
In a report issued by the Center for Policy Initiatives (CPI), the outlook for working families in San Diego county is bleak. For a family of 4 with a preschool aged child and infant, both parents need to make an hourly salary of $20.06 for the family to be self-sufficient. That’s not a combined minimum hourly wage; each parent must make the $20.06 to live a basic life in San Diego without relying on public or private assistance.
County-wide, there are 13,395 workers in the agricultural industry, with 65.2% of these workers living below the standard of self-sufficiency. This is the population hardest hit by salary inequality. 40.9% of those in construction are below the self-sufficiency standard and 37.7% of those in retail sales positions also fall short. In terms of ethnic groups, Latinos (who make up 49% of the population of Escondido) are effected the most with 58.9% of those workers living below the self-sufficiency threshold.
These numbers are particularly telling for Escondido. According to the city’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) report, 13.9% of the working population in the city, as of 2009, is the retail services sector. The two largest shares of employment came from retail sales and construction. Both of these industries, as stated in the previous paragraph, fall well short of the self-sufficiency threshold in the CPI report.
For a blue collar city like Escondido, these numbers point to the poor state of our working families. The need for paying a prevailing wage to anyone who would work on city funded projects is obvious. Yet, the Mayor – and the others in the council majority – want to take that money out of the pockets of the workers and put it into the pockets of their friends, the developers.
Council member Masson pointed out that when cities pay prevailing wage, “the taxpayers subsidize paying 20% to 30% more.” While that might be true, think about the what that extra 20% to 30% will do for the working families of Escondido. Entering into a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) – something that the council majority also is virulently against – would guarantee that jobs on city projects would go to local labor, would mitigate cost overruns and would, thereby, help the working families of Escondido. This is obviously something that Sam & Co does not want.
Consider this: Last year, the Council majority approved a reduction in fees for a developer on a project in the North Broadway Deficiency Area. Those fees were determined by city staff to be what was needed to properly cover associated costs. But after having received substantial contributions to their campaign accounts, Mayor Abed and Council member Masson both argued strongly for a reduction in fees; in fact, Council member Masson even asked the attorney representing the developer if the reduction was enough; that they could go lower if needed.
While this particular project is not a city construction project, and therefore not required to pay prevailing wages or enter into a PLA, the process of lowering fees and gaining favors from the council, demonstrates how it is that deals are done in the city and why protections for our working families are necessary.
I have stated many times that the proposed city charter was written by a lawyer who works for the Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc (ABC). This is important for a couple of reasons. First, the ABC is strongly opposed to unions and paying of prevailing wage and entering into PLAs. Second, Bill Baber – the attorney in question – is Council member Masson’s campaign treasurer and, most assuredly, is helping to push the proposed charter along behind the scenes. It is also interesting to note that at the last public hearing, Council member Masson suggested that the council should add the anti-prevailing wage language back into the charter document.
The attacks on working families in San Diego county, and Escondido specifically, will continue until we as residents of the city and county stand up and insure that protections be put into place. Our residents deserve better from our elected officials. We deserve a council that will look to the interests of all the residents of Escondido, not just a few, and work to make Escondido better. Pie-in-the-sky “tech parks” and “business parks” will not serve the interest of the working families in Escondido; good paying jobs will.
To read the CPI report, follow this link or stop by the campaign office to get a copy.