One of the proudest moments in San Diego’s ongoing struggle for economic justice was the passage of the city’s living wage law in 2005. In these harsh economic times, it gives our service workers a little help by requiring government contractors to pay $12.70 per hour, or $2 less for employer-provided health insurance. Although this is not enough to make ends meet in San Diego, it helps taxpayers by taking some working poor off government programs and stimulating the local economy.

Unfortunately, not all companies are following the law. Center on Policy Initiatives, in cooperation with Mayor Jerry Sanders and City Attorney Mike Aguirre, exposed, investigated, prosecuted and prevailed in two major cases where contractors were cheating workers off their rightful earnings. In one case, the worker cooperating with us was retaliated against — chastised, transferred, demoted, and fired.

This is just the tip of the dark, submerged iceberg of government contracting. Our subsequent field visits and interviews with contractor employees revealed an intricate mesh of violations of local, state and federal laws.

Today, the City Council has an historic opportunity to put an end to waste, fraud and abuse in government contracting. The proposals being heard by the council today will equip the city to investigate violations of the law, provide whistleblower protections for employees who cooperate with investigations, create a fair and open process for reporting and prosecuting violations, and arm the city with a variety of tools to address violators.

The law must be enforced for government contractors, just as it is for everyday citizens. Saving pennies by cutting enforcement makes us foolish by the pound. There can be no exceptions to following the law. We will go to City Council today at 2 p.m. in support of the proposed amendments to the Living Wage and Responsible Contractor ordinances.

I will keep you updated as the day goes.

— MURTAZA BAXAMUSA

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