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ConVis CEO Says ‘Misperception’ Led To Labor Protest Over Living Wage

Joe Terzi, the CEO and president of ConVis, talks to KPBS.


Joe Terzi, President and CEO of ConVis


The San Diego City Council today approved a four-year contract for the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau, or ConVis, to provide sales and marketing services for the Convention Center.

Last week, a local labor union protested against what they said was an attempt by ConVis to avoid paying its employees the city-mandated living wage of $13.77 an hour. But Joe Terzi, the president and CEO of ConVis told KPBS that was a "misperception."

"We asked a question of the city of how does this affect our associates," Terzi said.

He said ConVis has about 80 associates that work in visitor’s centers on a volunteer basis.

“We were concerned that if we did have a living wage agreement that we had to live under, that we couldn’t keep those associates involved,” he said.

He said on Friday ConVis was assured the living wage requirement would not apply to its volunteers.

"We have no one at the bureau that doesn’t make in excess of almost $20 an hour, so it’s not an issue,” he said.

Terzi said San Diego can fight the growing competition among city convention centers with its planned expansion.

“Anyone that really looks at the convention center business understands how important it is to have the right facility, the right size meeting space, the right size exhibit hall, and that’s what we’re working on with this expansion,” he said.

He said San Diego has been pushed from the "top tier" of city convention centers, but that the expansion would restore the city's convention center to that top tier.

If the city gets into the primary tier, he said, it can keep conventions it already has and potentially attract new ones.

He said an expansion would be important to retaining Comic-Con, which is slated to stay in San Diego through 2015.

“We're working on 2016 now,” Terzi said.

He added that the expansion would also help retain "very lucrative medical conventions."

The city's plan to finance the expansion with a self-imposed room tax hike by hoteliers has drawn criticism for its questionable legality. City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said he believes the tax “tests the boundaries of the law”—because new taxes must be approved by a public vote—and that he will not let the city begin work on the Convention Center expansion until its legality is resolved.

Terzi said the criticism that ConVis will work only to benefit hoteliers and not the city is unfounded.

“Those critics don’t really understand what happens in the community and what the role of selling the building is," he said. "We’re out there every day selling San Diego. We wake up as an organization with nothing more than how do we attract more people to San Diego.”

“This unifies that selling effort, puts it back under the bureau, allows us to leverage a lot of the capacities we have now, allows us to get deeper into the market with one message about San Diego and that to me is the most important part of that," he added. “There’s no one that doesn’t win in this deal.”

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