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Labor leader Lorena Gonzalez told me today that she’s interested in requiring contractors who would take part in the city’s planned managed competition initiative to hand over regular lists of individual salary information, in part to ensure they are paying workers a so-called “living wage.”

Gonzalez, who is secretary-treasurer of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, was referring to this article I wrote about managed competition and public records access, in which a spokeswoman for Mayor Jerry Sanders said access to individuals’ salaries shouldn’t matter, as long as contractors are on budget and follow the city’s living wage ordinance.

Gonzalez countered that it’s nearly impossible to prove a company is paying a living wage (or not) without requiring that individual salary information, which she called the “easiest and cheapest way” to make sure contractors follow a host of labor laws.

Indeed, labor leaders sought to require city contractors to turn over an annual list of employee names and salaries as part of revisions to the living-wage law that were approved in October. But Gonzalez said the provision never made it into the revised ordinance over concerns the requirement would be too onerous.

Gonzalez said she plans to pursue the issue as the city works to implement managed competition. “It’s probably something we will revisit,” she said.

She cited the example of former city launderer Prudential Overall Supply, which had to pay settlements to its workers and a fine after the city brought suit alleging the company failed to follow the living-wage requirement. When labor leaders first reported the problems, Gonzalez said, city officials couldn’t get accurate salary information from Prudential to determine whether it was complying with the law.

To be sure, even without the individual salary information, there were documents showing the company was not paying a “living wage,” as this 2007 story detailed:

On Jan. 24, the company was sent a letter confirming the city and company’s intentions to extend its uniform contract by three months. Prudential General Manager Bryan Harris signed the one-page contract, but only after crossing out a sentence that stated, in part, “It is further understood that as part of this agreement your company will ensure full compliance with the Living Wage Ordinance.”

A month later, Harris returned a contract for providing laundry service for the city’s Streets Division after checking a “no” box that followed the question on whether Prudential would pay a living wage.

But Gonzalez asserts that labor leaders were able to find out more about the wages by talking to workers as part of an organizing drive than the city could obtain in its oversight role. “We provided the city and the City Attorney’s Office with more information than we ever got from the contractor,” she said.

RANI GUPTA

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