By Miriam Raftery
”We cannot survive as a city if 75% of our children are coming out of families living in poverty…This is saying that our city is not going to live in poverty.”—Shelia Jackson, President, San Diego School Board
May 27, 2009 (San Diego) – “Today, the School Board affirmed the vision of the future—that when tax dollars are spent, they should be spent to benefit the community,” Tom Lemmon, San Diego Building Trades and Construction Trades Council, told East County Magazine moments after the San Diego School Board meeting last night. By a one-vote margin, the Board adopted a Construction Careers Project Stabilization Agreement (PSA) requiring that all 10,000 jobs for school improvements under Proposition S must go to local workers, pay living wages, and provide healthcare insurance for employees.
The measure drew a large crowd that included many construction workers and contractors, prompting School Board member John Lee Evans to remark, “I’ve never seen so many men at a school board meeting.” Evans, voted for the measure, along with members Richard Barrera and board president Sheila Jackson. Members John De Beck and Katherine Nakamura voted against it.
San Diego County lost 10,000 construction jobs in 2008 alone, according to the California Employment Development Department’s Labor Market Information report issued in January 2009. The measure aims to stabilize the local economy by providing local jobs with good wages and benefits for workers.
Supporters of the measure said the agreement will assure not just short-term jobs, but provide a path to middle-class careers for high school graduates not heading to college, including paid apprenticeships. Supporters also argued that the measure will boost the local economy by assuring that all workers hired live in San Diego County, with 70% living within the School District’s boundaries. Supporters defended a requirement to use union apprenticeship programs, noting that union programs graduate 92% of all the apprentices in California, as well as 95% of all women and 92% of all minorities between 2002 and 2007.
“Where is the commitment on the part of non-union contractors to the people being trained?” asked board member Richard Barrera. “90% of the graduates of apprenticeship programs are coming out of unions, and nearly 100% of women and minorities are coming out of unions.” Noting claims by opponents that 85% of workers are non-union, he observed, “If 15% of the industry is producing 90% of graduates, then that’s real commitment.” He challenged non-union apprenticeship programs to improve outreach to women and minorities.
Barrera noted that Governor Schwarzenegger is now talking about cutting healthcare for children and stressed the importance of parents having jobs that provide health benefits. “Anything we can do as a school district to make sure that kids have healthcare, that’s an opportunity we need to provide.” Noting that he and other board members have been threatened with recall and removal from office if they support the measure, Barrera added, “That’s your choice, but I’m not going to be intimidated into not doing the right thing.”
Opponents testified that the measure would largely eliminate job opportunities under Prop S for apprentices in non-union apprentice programs, as well as projects for some contractors who have done business with the district in the past.
Andrew Hamilton said he received training through a non-union apprenticeship program and passed a state exam. “If you want a face to discriminate against, here I am,” he said.
Another local student who apprenticed in a non-union program testified, “Please don’t deny me the right to work on the school that I grew up in.”
But another worker testified that after completing a non-union internship and being injured, he was unable to return three years later to the program. “My three years there did not count for anything,” he said. “The union has given me an opportunity to start over again.”
Nakamura called her vote a “tortured decision” but said she believes good companies are being punished. She also objected to people such as her neighbor, a non-union carpenter who lives outside the zip codes in the district, being excluded.
De Beck similarly commented, "I do believe there are people being left out." The Project Stabilization Agreement was added in part to comply with Obama administrative directives for to include PSAs for federal projects. To date, 29 school boards across California have adopted PSAs . Locally, PSAs have been used at Petco Park and the San Diego Water Authority. The measure adopted by the District does include an escape clause that allows the District to suspend the project labor agreement for a specific project if less than three competitive bids are received.
Evans observed, “The bigger picture here, and what scares people, is that San Diego is changing The U.S. is changing. There are voices speaking up—those who have been excluded…and I am very proud to be part of this.”
Board president Sheila Jackson observed, “This has been a long road.” She noted that nearly 75% of families living in the District are living below the federal poverty level, and that unemployment levels are high in the District. If steps are not taken to improve wages and provide healthcare for families with children, she concluded, “We will not be America’s Finest City.”
“Workers matter,” Lemmon concluded, adding that he is excited to be working to support the many community partners in favor of the agreement .(To view a list of supporters, click here and scroll down: http://www.onlinecpi.org/downloads/Fact%20or%20Fiction_School%20Board.pdf)
Lorena Gonzalez, head of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, concurred with Evans’ assessment that “Change has come to San Diego.” Gonzalez (shown in photo with Lemmon), added, “We’re starting here, and once we see some great success here, you will see some other school boards follow suit.”