How San Diego Polices Its Other Wage Laws - Voice of San Diego

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How San Diego Polices Its Other Wage Laws

As San Diego mulls enforcement plans for a proposed minimum wage hike, the city is soon set to have nearly a half-dozen staffers policing other city wage ordinances.

The push to boost San Diego’s minimum wage is amplifying the spotlight on the city’s other wage ordinances.

City Councilwoman Lorie Zapf and other City Council Republicans have pointed out that the city will soon have about 10 staffers policing its living wage and prevailing wage ordinances that apply to city contractors.

“Given the number of staff we needed to hire just to enforce our living wage and prevailing wage laws, I would imagine we’ll need a little mini-IRS with a significant number of employees to enforce minimum wage,” Zapf said at a recent City Council meeting.

Indeed, City Council President Todd Gloria’s proposal to increase the minimum wage to $11.50 an hour by 2017 would likely affect thousands of everyday San Diegans. The wage ordinances currently on the books only affect workers involved with city contracts.

City leaders are waiting on a report from the city’s independent budget analyst that’ll offer suggestions on staffing and strategies to enforce the minimum-wage hike. Meanwhile, the city plans to spend $1.1 million this year enforcing the other two measures. Policing the minimum wage would be a much different animal.

Here’s how the city approaches each ordinance.

The Living Wage Ordinance

The living wage ordinance forces many companies that do work with the city, such as landscaping and security firms, to pay at least $14.17 an hour for work associated with city contracts or $11.80 an hour if they also cover health benefits.

Two city staffers currently enforce the ordinance but the city plans to hire a third worker this year. That will push the program’s budget to about $300,000.

Nora Nugent, who manages the city’s living wage program, said the city reviews annual reports from contractors working at six city facilities – including Petco Park, Qualcomm Stadium and the San Diego Convention Center – that detail payroll and labor information.

The office monitors more than 146 contracts and also does a few random investigations each month to ensure the companies are paying workers the living wage. These probes involve meetings with contract managers and payroll requests going back three to six months. Historically, city staffers have found discrepancies in about half of the reviews, Nugent said.

The office also takes complaints from contract workers and conducts more in-depth investigations. From 2005 through this January, living wage investigators had looked into 49 complaints and found violations in nearly 60 percent of them.

As of January, contract workers involved in those complaints received nearly $314,000 in back pay.

The Prevailing Wage Ordinance

This city law was expanded last year to include projects under $10 million and requires the city pay generally higher hourly rates to workers. (The exact increases depend on a given employee’s role.)

San Diego’s measure was partly inspired by state legislation that mandates cities pay the steeper wages or miss out on state infrastructure grants.

The city put more firepower behind enforcing the measure, which went into effect in January.

It’s set to spend about $800,000 this year to support seven city employees who ensure the city and construction contractors leading the projects are doling out proper funds.

Henry Foster, who manages the city’s equal opportunity contracting program, said the seven employees constantly review each contract.

“Our program is really proactive and state statute-driven,” he said.

And the rules mandate that supervisors of the city’s roughly 240 contracts provide payroll data every week for city workers to review.

Prevailing wage program employees also visit construction sites to question whether contractors are paying workers adequately and can take complaints from workers. They also conduct training sessions for both contractors and other city workers, Foster said.

A city spokesman said the department couldn’t immediately provide data on the number of violations the seven workers have uncovered or back pay they may have helped collect in the expanded program’s earliest months.

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