From a Battle Abroad to a Wage Battle Back Home | Voice of San Diego

Fix San Diego

From a Battle Abroad to a Wage Battle Back Home

On its face, the minimum wage battle isn’t strictly a veterans issue. But about 6 percent of the minimum wage earners in San Diego are veterans – people who fought for their country, then transitioned into much lower-paying jobs.

Veterans have a stake in San Diego’s minimum wage battle, too.

fix san diego opinionLast week, I joined former Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, City Councilman Ed Harris and several veterans to ask San Diegans not to sign the deceptive petitions of anti-minimum wage gatherers. Here’s why.

The San Diego City Council passed the Earned Sick Leave-Minimum Wage Ordinance. This ordinance increases the minimum wage to $11.50 by 2017, with future increases tied to inflation beginning in 2019. Mayor Kevin Faulconer vetoed the raise. When the City Council overturned his veto, an all-out assault perpetrated by outside interests began on low-wage earners – including veterans.

I’m a single parent, and a veteran. I transitioned from military service in May 2013 where I was making about $92,000 a year. Finding employment was tough for me, even though I had earned a master’s degree, 21 certifications and six journeyman cards (certifications for having completed vocational studies and apprenticeships) while I was in the Navy.

Luckily, I landed a job about six months after I left the service. I can’t imagine working for $9 an hour and then having to choose between taking care of my son, Ryan, when he gets sick, or taking home a paycheck so we can eat. The current minimum wage – $1,560 a month before taxes – just can’t cover gas, groceries, rent, bills and the bare necessities.

Opponents ask why San Diego even needs to address the minimum wage. The answer is a relatable one. We can all appreciate it’s expensive to live in San Diego. Hardworking San Diegans are subject to higher taxes, lower wages and a higher cost of living than most places across California and the country. The purchasing power of today’s minimum wage is less than it was during every year from 1956 to 1983. Today’s minimum wage is about 37 percent of the average hourly rate; when the minimum wage was established, it was meant to be 50 percent of that average.

Some might say minimum wage is not a veterans issue, which is true at face value. About 6 percent of the minimum wage earners in San Diego are veterans.

I personally know several veterans earning the minimum wage, some of whom even work for vocal opponents of the ordinance in question. These men and woman served their country, were shot at, bled in foreign lands and then returned home to transition into school or new careers. These are not veterans with pensions. Those only come after 20 or more years of service.

That fact cuts against many Republicans’ favorite argument against a wage hike – that a higher minimum wage discourages workers from climbing to a better position. The reality is many of the people in these jobs have made more and had fancier titles in the past. That they’re in low-wage jobs isn’t usually by choice or lack of effort.

I served my country for 12 years for the same reason I’m in this fight: I care about all Americans. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that, if the federal minimum wage were raised, there would be a slight drop in employment (about 500,000 jobs), but the country would see a dramatic boost – $31 billion – in higher wages. Here in San Diego, 279,000 more workers would finally have sick days, and some estimates say 172,000 citizens would benefit from higher wages. Ten thousand of those would be veterans. Taking back these benefits would be shameful.

The City Council made the right move, and a decisive majority of citizens opposes the so-called “referendum” that aims to block the increase. This is a case of greedy outsiders interfering in how we conduct business in our city, and it’s time to send a message: Thanks for your self-serving input, but we know what’s best for our people.

Every single signature on these petitions takes away sick days and pushes our neighbors into poverty. Support your fellow citizens, support your veterans and Don’t Sign It.

Shawn VanDiver is a 12-year Navy veteran and adjunct faculty at three universities teaching military studies and national security policy. He manages corporate security and enterprise risk at a major tech company, and is a defense council fellow with the Truman National Security Project. VanDiver’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.

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