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Construction Jobs On MTS Land Will Pay More Under New Policy

MTS board members listen to public speakers in their boardroom, July 25, 2019.

Photo by Andrew Bowen

Above: MTS board members listen to public speakers in their boardroom, July 25, 2019.

Construction jobs for projects on land owned by the Metropolitan Transit System will pay better in the future, after the agency's board voted Thursday to require "prevailing wage" on all of its projects.

Prevailing wage is a pay scale for construction workers that is set by the state and influenced by union contracts. Such pay is already required on most public works projects and affordable housing but typically not on "market-rate" homes with no caps on rent.

The move was pushed by MTS board chair and San Diego City Council President Georgette Gomez. It's a win for labor unions, which publicly pushed for the change last month.

"We look forward to working with you ... to make sure that people are always being able to earn real wages that sustain their families, and that when we're building affordable housing we're not actually increasing the market for more affordable housing," said Carol Kim, political director of the San Diego Building and Construction Trades Council, a group of construction worker unions.

The new rules stem from a development deal for the Grantville trolley station that MTS board members approved last month. The project — which would build 410 apartments on the station's parking lot — includes both subsidized affordable housing and market-rate apartments.

RELATED: Push For Affordable Housing On MTS Land Showing Results

Because MTS did not have a prevailing wage requirement at the time of the project's approval, workers building the affordable homes will earn higher wages than those building the market-rate homes.

The policy change passed 10-4, with some of the board's conservatives dissenting.

"You're making (projects) more expensive, you're putting more regulations than normal ... in front of a developer or a builder and making the projects less affordable," Eric Christen, executive director of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction, told board members.

The policy change has no direct impact on the MTS budget, but the agency will likely get less revenue from future partnerships with developers. Developers say prevailing wage requirements increase a project's total cost by 20% to 30%.

Prevailing wages vary by region and by construction job. Higher-skilled tradespeople such as plumbers are already paid well on the open labor market, so their prevailing wage may not be much higher. But it's a big boost for workers in lower-skilled jobs that pay closer to minimum wage.

Listen to this story by Andrew Bowen

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