SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A proposal to require contractors on many City of San Diego public works and maintenance projects to pay prevailing wages to employees was approved by the City Council Tuesday.
The proposed ordinance passed on a party-line 5-4 vote, with Democrats David Alvarez, Myrtle Cole, Marti Emerald, Todd Gloria and Sherri Lightner in favor.
Currently, the city sets pay for contractors working on water and sewer projects valued at more than $10 million or large city projects that are partially funded with state or federal dollars.
The ordinance would govern public works and maintenance projects valued over $25,000, in conformance with state labor law. It will take effect on Jan. 1 if it passes a second reading, according to Lightner.
"This decision to pay a fair, livable wage to the hard working men and women in the construction business is long overdue," said Mayor Bob Filner. "I applaud the City Council members who stood up to do the right thing and voted in favor of the Prevailing Wage Ordinance."
Supporters of the proposal say the pay boost will help workers economically in a city with a high cost of living while ensuring construction quality, without dramatic increases in overall project costs.
"There is no more powerful or important strategy for developing the economy of the San Diego region than to lift the wages of the people in our primary industries," said Richard Barrera, the CEO of the San Diego and
Imperial Counties Labor Council and a member of the San Diego Unified School District Board of Education. "And, of course, construction is one of our key industries."
However, Felipe Monroig, the executive director of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, said costs on major city projects will rise.
"So when you go back to your constituents and talk about streets that need repair, buildings that need to be fixed, including libraries and ‘rec' centers, be prepared to explain to them why you're willing to accept an additional charge and maybe reduce the number of projects that are able to be completed as a result of this ordinance."
Councilman David Alvarez noted competing data from the mayor's office, which brought the ordinance to the council, and the city's independent budget analyst and said he didn't know whether higher wages would raise project costs or not.
"I think it's the right thing to do," Alvarez said. "A lot of other places have done it, and the world hasn't fallen apart. And it won't fall apart here."
Nelson Hernandez, the city's assistant chief operating officer, said in a memo that the benefits of requiring prevailing wages include improving local construction careers, ensuring that contractors compete on an even playing field and building projects with a skilled labor force.
Prevailing wages are determined by collective bargaining between unions and employers, he said, adding that the state Department of Industrial Relations does an annual survey of pay rates.
The city's Independent Budget Analyst estimated in a report that total project costs would rise 5-10 percent but said the mayor's office provided little data that it could study.As a charter city, San Diego is not required to specify prevailing wages on municipal construction contracts. A bill being considered in the Legislature, however, would end the exemption for charter cities.
Lawyers for the city have expressed the opinion that the state bill, if passed, would ultimately be found unconstitutional.
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