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Port Tells Host to Increase Wages, Add Minority Businesses at Airport

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Board of Port Commissioners Tuesday told Host International it must pay prevailing wages to its airport employees.

At the same time, some commissioners complained that Host, which operates the restaurants, lounges and concession stands at Lindbergh Field, was unfairly using the promise of establishing minority-owned businesses there to obtain a lease extension.

Both issues arose at a San Diego Unified Port District meeting at which union officials asked commissioners to publicly endorse language in the port’s lease agreement with Host that requires the company to pay prevailing wages to its local employees.

In addition, several black community leaders crowded the meeting room to pressure commissioners to require Host to subcontract more of its airport operations to minorities. The company, which is being pressured both by the Port District and minority communities to increase minority participation, asked the district to authorize a 10-year extension on its lease, which expires in 1994.

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“I don’t think it’s overreaching to suggest to Host that we’re serious about the meaning of the paragraph (calling for prevailing wages) in the lease agreement,” Port Director Don Nay said.

Commissioner Lynn Schenk argued that “we must make it very clear to Host that it’s a policy we endorse.” The board then voted unanimously to support Schenk’s motion on supporting prevailing wages for airport workers.

Although the board supported the concept of prevailing wages, commissioners did not define what such wages are for this area.

Officials from the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union, Local 30 said Host’s 190 employees earn a median wage of $5 an hour. According to union officials, workers at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, the San Diego Sports Arena and the Del Mar Racetrack earn an average of $1.96 an hour more for comparable work.

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U.S. Department of Labor figures quoted by the union show that most Host employees earn less than the $6.58 poverty wage level set by the federal government for the San Diego area.

Host spokesman Gary Lindstrom said the company “believes very strongly that we do pay a prevailing wage.” Lindstrom said the prevailing-wage clause in Host’s lease agreement with the Port District “is a policy, not a covenant.”

According to the latest port figures, Host registered $21.5 million in sales at the airport in 1988 and paid $2.6 million in rent.

The union and Host are engaged in troubled negotiations over a new labor contract. The old contract expired Dec. 31. Earlier this year, Host failed in an attempt to decertify the union.

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On Tuesday, commissioners also voted to study Host’s request for a lease extension. The board made it clear the request will be heavily weighed against Host’s plan for subcontracting some of its airport operations to minority-owned businesses.

Harold K. Brown, a dean at San Diego State University’s College of Business Administration and an activist in the black community, decried the lack of minority-owned businesses at Lindbergh, calling Host “arrogant and greedy.”

“We consider it an insult . . . that only a shoeshine stand has been deemed worthy of occupying space at the airport,” said Brown, who also represented the Catfish Club, the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People and the Black Economic Task Force at the meeting.

The Port District previously rejected as too low a Host proposal to subcontract 18% of its airport businesses to minorities. On Tuesday, the company’s Lindstrom offered a new plan that would increase minority participation to 30.7%.

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Commissioners postponed action on Host’s new proposal until staff members and minority groups review it.

However, Commissioner Clifford Graves said he was still troubled by the timing of Host’s extension request and the company’s plans to increase minority participation at the airport.

“To use a (minority-owned business) issue to get 10 more years of a monopoly--to use that as a lever bothers me,” he said. " . . . I don’t like the idea of using (minority-owned businesses) as leverage to avoid a competitive bid process.”


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