San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher (D – District 4) co-sponsored a controversial new initiative which critics say will have a devastating impact on businesses within the county, particularly those in the embattled El Cajon area. The ordinance was recently passed with Fletcher voting yes.
The so-called Working Families Ordinance was co-sponsored by Fletcher along with fellow supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer. It imposes a set of stringent requirements on all businesses that operate on county property.
Among other things, the measure mandates that workers are paid “prevailing wages” – a term not clearly defined in the ordinance, but which is usually taken to mean union wages. In addition, it requires businesses to provide workers 56 hours of sick leave annually, eight more than the state minimum.
The proposal received support from a number of labor unions. However, it has been extensively criticized by many local stakeholders, including the City Council of El Cajon, which voted unanimously to oppose Fletcher’s ordinance.
City Manager Graham Mitchell said that the legislation is “especially unfair” to El Cajon, as a large share of its businesses are on county land, placing the city at a competitive disadvantage compared to its neighbors. “We are bearing more burden than anywhere else in the county,” said Mitchell.
All told, nearly half of the land zoned for manufacturing or industrial purposes in El Cajon is owned by the county. This land is used by more than 300 businesses, which employ around 3,500 people. Many of them, including a number of women and minority-owned businesses, have already suffered greatly over the course of the pandemic lockdowns.
Fletcher’s ordinance was harshly denounced by several El Cajon councilmembers. Mayor Bill Wells called the measure “pure evil” and challenged Fletcher and Lawson-Remer to a debate, saying that they had “nothing to stand on.” Councilmember Phil Ortiz said, “This policy will shut (local businesses) down. It will move them out of the city and cost people their entire lives.”
In addition, the ordinance received criticism from those who work at the nearby Gillespie Field airport, which also falls under county jurisdiction. At a Board of Supervisors meeting, Gillespie Field Development Councilmember Barry Bardack decried the measure, saying that “Gillespie is not the county’s to use as you please.”