On Guard!

Lee lets businesses raid health funds, restaurants back Chiu, and Ellison offers a sneak-peek to America's Cup labor standards

Assembling seating for the Oracle OpenWorld concert was a big job but the pay would have been smaller than the legal minimum.



If wealth trickled down from Oracle's OpenWorld conference in San Francisco last week, very little of it reached a small group of low-wage laborers hired from out of state to set up for a concert hosted as an event highlight on Treasure Island.

Oracle is a prominent Bay Area tech company helmed by Larry Ellison, the billionaire CEO who worked closely with top city officials to bring the America's Cup sailing regatta to San Francisco.

The Oct. 5 Oracle OpenWorld concert on Treasure Island featured Sting and Tom Petty as headliners. Registration packages for the weeklong tech conference, which drew some 45,000 attendees to San Francisco, ranged from $1,395 to $2,595.

A member of the carpenters union contacted the San Francisco Office of Labor Standards & Enforcement (OLSE) Sept. 16 to formally complain that a construction crew assembling a large seating structure for the event was being paid less than the city-mandated minimum wage of $9.92 per hour, city documents show.

Josh Pastreich, an OLSE official, went to the worksite to interview crew members. Their names were redacted from public records, but Pastreich described them as monolingual Spanish speakers who travel from city to city building seating arrangements for major events.

"Everyone is being paid $8 an hour (except for the supervisors)," he reported in a city document. "Workers generally started at 6:30 am but there was a little confusion about quitting times." At least one work day lasted 11 and a half hours, according to a timesheet. The workers were hired by subcontractors brought in by Hartmann Studios, an events management outfit working directly for Oracle.

"We made a phone call, and sent them some emails," OLSE director Donna Levitt explained. "Nobody said, 'we intended to pay them the [legal] rate,'" but the subcontractors increased workers' hourly wages to comply with San Francisco minimum wage ordinance requirements, Levitt said. Since the company adjusted the rate immediately, no fines were issued. There were fewer than 20 workers on the project.

OLSE did not correspond with Oracle directly, but spoke to the subcontractors. One was T & B Equipment, a Virginia-based company. "We were not aware of the minimum wage there, but we fixed it before the payroll was done," a T & B representative identified only as Mr. Waller told the Guardian. Lewmar, a Florida-based subcontractor, assisted with staffing for the job. Oracle, Hartmann Studios, and Lewmar did not respond to Guardian requests for comment.

Since the enforcement agency intervened, the laborers earned $9.92 per hour instead of $8 — still well below the average Bay Area payscale for similar work. Building bleachers is comparable to raising scaffolding for major construction projects, and the prevailing wage for unionized scaffolding erectors in California is $37.65 per hour, or $62.63 when benefits are factored in.

None of the workers were from San Francisco, which likely spurred the carpenters union complaint — Carpenters Local 22 has faced significant losses in membership since the economic downturn due to high levels of unemployment disproportionately impacting the construction sector. Represenatives from Local 22 did not return calls seeking comment.

Boosters of the America's Cup have hailed the upcoming sailing event as an engine for local job creation, but Oracle's use of low-wage, out-of-state laborers at its pricey, high-profile OpenWorld event raises questions. While the tech company is a separate outfit from the America's Cup organizing team, Ellison holds leadership positions at both.

Related articles

  • On Guard!

    Our perspective on the week's most notable San Francisco news