by Photo courtesy of San Diego County

Skilled, trained workers on construction projects on county land must be paid with prevailing wages under a decision made by the Board of Supervisors last week. 

Under the county’s decision, called the Working Families Ordinance, contractors are required to use skilled, trained workers and pay prevailing wages during construction projects over $1 million on county land. 

The federal government and the state of California set prevailing wages to establish pay and benefits for public works projects. It is based on compensation rates for similar work in the same area.

The decision was split between Supervisors Jim Desmond and Joel Anderson, who opposed the ordinance while Supervisors Nathan Fletcher, Terra Lawson-Remer, and Nora Vargas were in favor.

The board’s action also requires employers on county-leased land to provide paid sick leave and ensure worker protections against retaliation and discrimination. Additionally, there was uncertainty over the fiscal impact of the ordinance. 

According to a consultant’s report, the changes would cost the county nearly $7 million because some businesses reported they plan to move if it passed. It also estimated a loss of $21.9 million in wages from displaced workers.

Businesses that stay on county land could expect wage increases totalling $6.3 million, according to the report. A negative regional economic impact of $22.6 million is expected with this ordinance. 

Those in opposition to the action said it requires further analysis and included exemptions from prevailing wages for certain employers. 

Fletcher said the action could protect middle-class families while holding businesses on county land accountable. With this measure, Fletcher said it can also help prevent problems such as poverty and homelessness. 

Anderson said he would support additional studies on the ordinance and its effects before voting. 

The ordinance will be finalized during a March 1 meeting and will go into effect 30 days after. 

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