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Image: misleadingStatement: “We have found in the past that our highest performing contracts are the ones that hire people locally, that require what’s called prevailing wage … (we get the) highest performance of the job being done correctly and under budget,” City Council President Ben Hueso said April 19 on KUSI, plugging his local jobs proposal.

Determination: Misleading

Analysis: We don’t know whether Hueso’s statement is true or false, but neither does he nor other city officials. He implies that the city of San Diego has compared the performance of these city contracts, but he later acknowledged that no local study exists.

Prevailing wage generally requires contractors to pay workers at least industry-standard wages. The restrictions are meant to prevent contractors from winning bids based solely on paying lower wages than their competitors. In San Diego, prevailing wage is required for contracts using state, federal or county money, and water or wastewater utility projects costing over $10 million.

We first contacted Hueso’s council office April 21 and requested supporting information for the statement. “Ben was repeating something he had heard,” spokeswoman Michelle Ganon said in response. “It may take several days to track the info.”

So in the meantime, we contacted the Mayor’s Office, which forwarded our question to the city’s Purchasing and Contracting Department. “There is no such information that we maintain,” Hildred Pepper, the department’s director, replied in an e-mail.

Last week, Hueso’s office responded to our inquiry by providing a list of decades of research on prevailing wage agreements in other cities and throughout the country. The research generally describes prevailing wage contracts as high performing and not inflating government costs. He specifically highlighted this 2008 research review from the Economic Policy Institute.

But, contrary to Hueso’s statement, none of the research specifically examined the performance of San Diego’s contracts. Here’s an excerpt from Hueso’s e-mail response:

When I discussed prevailing wage research on KUSI, I was referring to a body of research … that indicates these regulations can lower future maintenance and repair costs for projects because the completed work is of high quality. The contracts attract skilled workers and support apprenticeships that can perpetuate a high quality work force. In addition, because labor costs are roughly 20-30% of total construction outlay, they do not tend to have a significant impact on a project’s bottom line.

Hueso pointed to Petco Park as a recent example of a high performing prevailing wage contract.

But even in that case, the project didn’t come in under budget. The city initially estimated the ballpark would cost $411 million, but auditors put the final cost closer to $453 million, a 10 percent increase.

We’re calling Hueso’s statement misleading, because it makes a significant assertion without local supporting evidence. While there is research supporting his description of prevailing wage contracts, there appears to be no local research that would assess San Diego’s specific case.

If you happen to know where we can find local research that proves whether Hueso’s statement is true or false, please let us know. We would be interested in updating this Fact Check.

If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.

You can also e-mail new Fact Check suggestions to What claim should we explore next?


Summer Polacek

Summer Polacek was formerly the Development Manager at Voice of San Diego.

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