July 7, 2010 (San Diego) -- I think if it were possible to outsource firefighting to China some would say “go for it.”
San Diego District 5 City Councilman Carl DeMaio, the councilman for Rancho Bernardo, Carmel Mountain Ranch, Sabre Springs, Scripps Ranch and Mira Mesa, thought he delivered the necessary thousands of signatures to the city clerk in support of a ballot initiative called "Competition and Transparency in City Contracting." He and the supporters said the ballot measure would promote outsourcing of city services and save the city money. The supporters of the DeMaio initiative are mostly building contractors.
The Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction, a contractor-financed advocacy group donated $45,237, the Infrastructure PAC of the Associated General Contractors gave $63,000, the Western Electrical Contractors Association chipped in $20,000, Helix Electric a mere $10,000 and Mr. DeMaio added $15,000.
But it was all for naught, because it turned out they didn’t get enough verified signatures after all.
Opponents said the initiative was anything but transparent and would have eliminated the city's Living Wage Ordinance, which requires covered employers and their subcontractors to pay a wage sufficient for a full-time worker to meet basic needs such as health care and avoid economic hardship. It requires any company with city service contracts or doing business at city facilities to pay all workers at least $11.00 + $2.20 per hour in health benefits or $13.20 per hour, adjusted annually for inflation and provide ten paid sick days per year. DeMaio thinks $8 per hour is all these contractors should be required to pay.
In 2009, 43 private contractors, working within the managed competition requirements supported by the voters in Prop C, have had to pay a living wage to their workers in the contracts totaling $31.3 million for mainly landscaping, security, maintenance and janitorial services. This means that these workers are now taxpayers, not tax burdens as the result of poverty wages. And the public/private partnerships established with managed competition has given a level playing field for the contractors to bid for jobs successfully without throwing their workers onto food stamps and MediCal.
What voters, labor, community and religious organizations agree upon is that we need both managed competition and living wages for workers. But the initiative would have prevented the city's use of state and federal funds for public works projects -- from street repair to the convention center expansion. It banned requirements for local hiring and standards for contractor qualifications and safety training. And it banned equal benefits protections.
According to the Center for Policy Initiatives, a nonprofit research and advocacy center dedicated to the interests of working people in the San Diego region (the group that worked to pass the Living Wage Ordinance,) businesses also have benefited. Nearly half of the employers required to pay the Living Wage self-reported that it has improved their company's quality of service. And 46% say it has reduced absenteeism or turnover. They also report that the cost to the city has been miniscule. In fiscal year 2009, the total of increased contract costs and staff time for Living Wage administration and enforcement added less than one-tenth of 1% to the City budget.
It is interesting to note on Councilman DeMaio’s website that the citizen services most requested by his constituents are: Public Safety, Recycling, Trash/litter, Storm Water Service, Street Service and Neighborhood Watch. But it appears from this failed attempt for an initiative that Mr. DeMaio wanted to let developers take over the city…. again.
Sylvia Hampton is a community activist inducted into the San Diego County Women’s Hall of fame for 2008 for her work in the fields of healthcare reform, social justice and reproductive health. She is the past president of the League of Women Voters of San Diego County and served on President Nixon’s Title X Family Planning Council. Her monthly Community Forum column is published in the Sun Signature Community Newspaper, Diamond Gateway Signature, and her Soapbox in the East County Magazine. Opinions are Sylvia’s alone and not to be interpreted as the policies of the League of Women Voters or East County Magazine.