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One Year After San Diego Minimum Wage Hike, City Enforcement Uncertain

Editor's Note: A previous version of this story did not include all authors of the wage theft report. It was co-written by San Diego State University's sociology department and the Employee Rights Center of San Diego.

One Year After San Diego Minimum Wage Hike, City Enforcement Uncertain

GUEST:

Kyra Greene, executive director, Center on Policy Initiatives

Transcript

The city of San Diego’s new minimum wage law went into effect last June, and the city funded an enforcement office to hear complaints and investigate violations. But until a few weeks ago, the city had been directing wage complaints to state labor regulators, who said the law can not be properly enforced without local help.

The Center on Policy Initiatives released a study on San Diego wage theft on Tuesday, estimating that employers in San Diego and Imperial counties fail to pay the minimum wage 40,000 times per year. The state received nearly 3,000 San Diego claims last year. The Center on Policy Initiatives worked with San Diego State University's sociology department and the Employee Rights Center of San Diego on the study.

In 2016, voters approved Proposition I, which increased the minimum wage and gave workers five sick days a year. The city said it would rely on employee complaints to make sure the law was followed.

But an April report from the the city treasurer, which oversees enforcement of the wage law, showed that while San Diego handled alleged violations of sick leave policy and employer notice requirements, it directed complaints about wage violations and retaliation to the California Labor Commissioner’s Office. As recently as June 6, the treasurer’s website suggested visitors could file wage complaints with the state. The site was updated on June 30 to include a way to report wage violations to city staff.

“The case that was made to voters is that no one who works full time should live in poverty,” said Kyra Greene, executive director of the Center on Policy Initiatives, which backed the wage increase. “And we outlined an agency that would do enforcement of these issues, of both wages and earned sick days. We set out a special series of protections for workers.”

The state Division of Labor Standards Enforcement signs deals with some cities, letting them refer potential violations to each other and conduct joint investigations. A draft partnership agreement was discussed among city officials, but California Labor Commissioner Julie Su said in May that she would not sign it because San Diego had not assigned any staff to enforce the minimum wage portion of its own ordinance.

“While we appreciate the importance of the outreach and education that the (city enforcement office) has undertaken, it will be insufficient to address the breadth of the problem and to realize the intent of the ordinance,” Su wrote in a letter to San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and council members. “Wage theft is a statewide crisis, and San Diego has a mandate to take the lead in addressing it.”

A spokeswoman for the treasurer's office said the city's minimum wage enforcement team has four staff members with one more expected by the end of the year.

"The City designed its enforcement process to direct minimum wage and retaliation complaints to the State. This was the result of many meetings, correspondence and collaboration with the San Diego area Deputy Labor Commissioners," Racquel Vasquez, a senior public information officer for the city of San Diego, said. "As with any program, we constantly evaluate our processes and as a result, effective July 1, 2017, violations of all Ordinance requirements can be filed with the City."

Greene, of the Center on Policy Initiatives, joined KPBS Midday Edition on Tuesday with more on San Diego’s efforts to crack down on employers who violate minimum wage law.

A year ago, the city of San Diego’s new minimum wage law went into effect and weeks later the City Council funded an enforcement office to hear complaints and investigate violations. But for months, the city forwarded all wage complaints to state labor regulators, who said the law can not be properly enforced without local help.

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