One CA City's Battle to Protect Prevailing Wages Against Unsavory Motivations

The Escondido Democratic Club recently took some time to clear up misconceptions about the prevailing wage, a hot topic in local political conversations due to the city’s upcoming referendum on charterization. At the final public hearing on the issue, Escondido Mayor Sam Abed proudly admitted the he was “championing the proposal.”  While supporters thinly veil their motives as an issue of “home rule,” honest participants know the prevailing wage to be the central legislative question.

If Escondido becomes a charter city it will be able to do away with the prevailing wage and the benefits to workers that come with it. So, the Escondido Democratic Club put together an impassioned argument in favor of wage protections:

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 percent of these workers living below the standard of self-sufficiency. This is the population hardest hit by salary inequality. 40.9 percent of those in construction are below the self-sufficiency standard and 37.7 percent of those in retail sales positions also fall short. In terms of ethnic groups, Latinos (who make up 49 percent of the population of Escondido) are affected the most with 58.9 percent of those workers living below the self-sufficiency threshold.

The city cannot afford to hamper workers with so many people struggling to get by as it is, they say. Especially if the only people who stand to gain are already in the best shape:

These numbers are particularly telling for Escondido. According to the city’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) report, 13.9 percent 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.

The Escondido Democratic Club also took the opportunity to point out that this sudden push for charter city status and the equally sudden demonization of prevailing wages has a moneytrail leading back to anti-union sources.  They claim it is being “championed” by closely knit right-wing forces with a common agenda of suppressing wages and expanding corporate profits:

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 piece insists that voters must stand up to these monied interests to protect the future of the community:

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.

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