By Doug Porter
More than thirty low-income workers came before an ad hoc committee on Saturday to testify about the realities of low-wage life in San Diego County. Many wept openly as they told their stories, encompassing a range of human misery in sharp contrast with the image of San Diego as the economic juggernaut portrayed by civic boosters.
Tales of living without running water, of not being able to afford medication for sick loved ones, of having not being able to afford school supplies and more were heard by the panel composed of representatives from faith, academic, labor and business groups. Every one of the speakers was employed; some were working two or more jobs. None of them could make ends meet on the wages they were being paid.
San Diego’s regional forum was one of several dozen held around the country, with low-income workers also testifying in Denver, Phoenix, Atlanta, New Orleans, Detroit, Kansas City, Mo., St. Louis, Las Vegas, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Houston and Milwaukee.
These ad hoc wage boards paid homage to a process by which a governor called a commission to investigate and raise pay for a given sector, a symbolic vestige of New Deal progressivism. These forums served a purpose identical to many of the government agencies born of that era: to protect working Americans from market downturns. In this case, we’re talking about thirty years of wage stagnation, despite inflation, increased profits and rising productivity.
The meeting began with a presentation by Dr. Peter Brownell of the Center on Policy Initiatives (CPI) presenting research showing that more than a third of local San Diego County families can’t afford to make basic ends meet. The presentation included a look to the future growth of San Diego’s job market, noting the jobs that will be hiring the most workers between now and 2022 will be predominantly low-wage jobs.
“I care for a 72-year-old woman – preparing her meals, cleaning her home, attending her doctors’ appointments. I do all this to ensure that she can live at home healthy and safe, and independent,” home care provider Michelle Wise testified, “This is the right thing to do, because so many of us are making poverty level wages, and too many people are working hard to support their families without a fair wage and a way to get ahead.”
Those sitting on the San Diego Wage Board members included: Richard Barrera, secretary-treasurer of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, AFL-CIO; Mel Katz, businessman and former chairman for the San Diego Workforce Partnership, San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and the San Diego Convention Center; Sister Justine Church of Medical Mission Sisters and Dr. Kelly Mayhew, San Diego City College professor.
It should surprise no one who heard the testimony that the Wage Board concluded at the end of the session raising wages was a necessary step. You’d have a heart of stone–or be Jerry Sanders–not to have been moved by what these workers said.
The Board voted unanimously to take three steps towards raising wages in the region. “As representatives of the business, faith, education and labor communities, we pledge to work to increase the minimum wage next June to $11.50, to work to pass a $15 state minimum wage in California in November and to support all workers who are fighting to improve their lives and the lives of their families by organizing strong unions at their workplaces,” said Chair Richard Barrera.
Barrera also announced an initiative to establish a $15 per hour minimum wage throughout the San Diego Unified School District.
Taking the Fight for $15 to 2016
Organizers with Fight for $15 San Diego passed out fliers calling for day of action on Tuesday, November 10th. Fast food locations will see strikes and protests throughout the morning. A 3pm rally at City College will precede a march to City Hall, culminating with speakers at 4:30 calling on lawmakers to support higher minimum wages.
Local organizing in the coming months will include mobilizing voters to support the City-wide measure on the ballot in June, which will give 172,000 San Diegans a raise and the right to additional earned sick days.
The San Diego City Council voted to raise local minimum wages last year, only to be overruled via a deceptive referendum campaign waged by the Chamber of Commerce and financed by out-of-town corporate interests.
Petitions are being circulated by the Service Employees International Union to get a statewide $15 per hour minimum wage (phased in over several years) on the November 2016 ballot.
Richard Barrera pointed out that, if all these measures come to fruition, by 2020 all San Diego workers will be making enough to support their families. What wasn’t said was raising wages also lessens reliance on government safety-net programs.
The corporations funding opposition (and spreading misleading propaganda) to minimum wage increases are dependent on those government programs as part of their business model. Think of increasing the minimum wage as a method for ending what in effect are subsidies for highly profitable businesses.
The Convention Center/Stadium Politics Shuffle
Union-Tribune columnist Dan McSwain took a hard look over the weekend at Mayor Faulconer’s grand plan to rehab the San Diego Convention Center and came away with plenty of doubts.
The trick for politicians is to avoid appearing hungry for re-election. This is why we hear so much about how this or that public project is good for business, and surely will boost the economy. Nobody says, “let’s build this because it’s really cool, and I will seem like a great builder at election time.”
Along with a new suburban stadium for the reluctant Chargers, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer has hitched his edificial ambitions to a consultant’s report that predicts vast new revenue if the city expands its downtown convention center toward the bay instead of building a separate “campus” venue two blocks away at Tailgate Park. The mayor plans to ask voters in 2016 for a tax hike to fund construction.
To my reading, the report has holes big enough to drive Comic-Con through. For example, it says a $549 million contiguous expansion won’t succeed without additional “public support” for a large, new “headquarters hotel” with 1,600 rooms or more. Yet the public cost for this private hotel remains a mystery, a major detail that could complicate the mayor’s bid to convince voters.
McSwain’s doubts and questions amount to a public service, even as he bent over backward to give convo boosters a hearing…
No Consensus, With a Smile and a Press Release
They also point to a much bigger problem: no political consensus exists for any of the various infrastructure (tax) proposals floating around in the hearts and minds of local officials and business interests.
The recent polling by State Sen. Marty Block demonstrated that resentment over potential public funding of a stadium was strong enough (when respondents heard a stadium spiel) to erase a double-digit lead by challenger Assm. Toni Atkins.
The Moores family, who just happen to own land suitable for the aforementioned “headquarters” hotel, are prepared to build a residential/office complex at that location should the Mayor’s vision of a contiguous convention center come true.
I guess it wouldn’t hurt to point out that another major player in the local political equation–organized labor– is strangely silent about potentially massive construction projects potentially beneficial to the trades. Last I heard they were — at best– being held at arms length from these discussions.
Then there’s the matter of regional infrastructure funding. A city-wide ballot measure was abandoned for lack of a consensus. A countywide SANDAG half-cent boost is also in trouble, both from the “drown government” types and more liberal environmental groups.
While I’m at it, I may as well mention the Sports Arena. It’s got–shall we say–problems. Like the fog billowing off the ice during a recent hockey match. Or like mid game cancelation of the basketball exhibition match between the Lakers and the Golden State Warriors on Saturday… due to water pooling up through the floor. (Tickets are being refunded)
And then there’s the matter of the architects who designed the library not getting paid. Dorian Hargrove at the Reader got the scoop on that deal, telling us that Architecture firms Rob Wellington Quigley and Tucker Sadler are on a path to court dates with the city. It seems as though the city hasn’t satisfied their claim, submitted well over a year ago, to be paid for the time and effort expended as fundraising delays and construction challenges delayed completion of the Central library.
Oh, the irony! Our Mayor, our fearless leader (at issuing press releases), may run unopposed next year even as nothing gets done. We could end up with no road or transit funding, no comic-con, an arena sinking into the muck and a football team with one foot out the door…
So what’s a civic-minded person to do? Stay tuned. Major developments are afoot, I’m told.
Money in Politics to be Discussed at Voters Luncheon
San Diego’s League of Women Voters is hosting a luncheon forum this week, discussing money in politics and income inequality. (Yes, they’re related.)
Appearing will be David Loy, Legal Director at ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties, Michael Aguirre, former San Diego City Attorney and SD Free Press columnist John Lawrence.
Co-Sponsors for the event are California Common Cause, ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties, Independent Voter Project, League of Women Voters of North San Diego County and the San Diego Free Press.
Tickets for the event are $35, at www.lwvsandiego.org [Click on ‘donate’ button, ‘amount’ $30 or $35, ‘purpose’ Luncheon.]
Is it One Person, One Vote or One Dollar, One Vote? – Find out Thursday, October 22, 2015 at Tom Ham’s Lighthouse, 11:30am-1:30pm.
A Little SDFP Housekeeping
We’re pleased to announce that Barbara Zaragoza has joined the editorial board of the San Diego Free Press. Barbara has contributed many South Bay stories to SDFP in recent months and will now be expected to work even harder for no pay. (We’re all volunteer.)
Be sure to catch her four-part interview with County Supervisor Greg Cox, starting later this week.
On This Day: 1933 – Basketball was introduced to the 1936 Olympic Games by the Berlin Organization Committee. 1949 – The National Association of Letter Carriers achieved equalization of wages for all letter carriers, meaning city delivery carriers began receiving the same wages regardless of the size of the community in which they worked. 1969 – Vice President Spiro Agnew referred to anti-Vietnam War protesters “an effete corps of impudent snobs.”
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