Community Comment : ‘We Can’t Have a Third-World Wage’ in the First World

<i> Patricia A. Konley talked with David Diaz</i> ,<i> an environmental planner</i>

A major sticking point in the Metropolitan Transit Authority strike is the use of outside workers for some jobs now done by union employees. It raises the issue of how to balance saving middle-class jobs with the need by government and private concerns to cut costs.

Patricia A. Konley talked with David Diaz, an environmental planner who helped prepare a 1992 report on the effects of privatization in the Los Angeles County Health Department for SEIU Local 660. He strongly favors preserving jobs.


I studied the privatization program of the Los Angeles County Health Department, five years of contracts from 1987 to 1991, and came to the conclusion that the county wasn’t actually saving money.


When you add in all the administrative costs--monitoring, problems with the contract, project resolution--you see that the county didn’t actually save money.

Even though they didn’t want to admit it, 75% of all the evaluations of private contractors that were given to us by the County of Los Angeles Health Department showed that the private contractors did not meet the minimum standard of acceptable performance. So, not only were they not saving money, but they weren’t getting the work done.

Also, a couple of times some major multinational vendors let their insurance policies lapse in county hospitals. That meant if an employee or patron slipped, county taxpayers were on the hook.

One thing we weren’t able look at was the low-wage structure of the private contractors. And the time sheets showed no medical benefits. So John Q Contractor is paying $6 an hour. If an employee or family member is injured and has to go to the county hospital, and stays there for 10 days, the county pays. (The county was) the medical safety net for all these (contract) workers because there was no health insurance. And that wasn’t even factored in the study.


I think we really need to look at Canada, Europe and Japan. There’s a fundamental standard of living in those countries that the entire social fabric comes to expect. The best example is the generous European vacation and (paid) family-leave policies. In our society, such programs wouldn’t have a chance of passing through the state Legislature or Congress.

If you want a Malaysian, Indonesian, Thai or Chinese wage structure, that’s the society you’re going to deliver to your doorstep. You can’t have a Third-World wage structure and pretend this is going to be a First-World society.

The racism and xenophobia against immigrants is because the white middle class and their children are is beginning to understand that they are as vulnerable as low-income workers to the stress of living on lower incomes, and they don’t like it.

Our society has to make a fundamental choice of how we want to live. We’re in the advanced age of technology and we’re still scrambling to feed ourselves, trying to make sure we have health care and having these absurd three-day vacations where people drive like maniacs because they don’t have enough free time.


We really need to take a new look and address the question, “Is this economy geared for gaining more and more for personal wealth, or are we here as a collective society to make life more enjoyable for all of us?” Otherwise, you pay with fear, with crime, with a crumbling infrastructure and a failed school system.

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