Downtown Chula Vista. Photo by Chris Stone

I vividly remember the picnics at Santee Lakes.

My dad worked at Vanier Graphics and was a member of the Graphics Communication International Union, which is now under Teamsters. He was a young, single dad raising three young children on his own. He worked the graveyard shift, and if it wasn’t for his union, we wouldn’t have ever seen our dad.

How many jobs would he have had to take to provide for us? And that doesn’t even include making all the memories at holiday parties, picnics and countless other family events the union hosted for us.

Union jobs provide crucial financial stability for working families. And as the cost of living continues to rise that financial stability is too often the difference between choosing to buy food or pay bills.

According to the San Diego & Imperial Counties Labor Council, approximately 30,000 of their union members live in Chula Vista. And that number goes up when you include union members from the Teamsters, Carpenters and other unions. These are residents that have high-paying jobs and contribute to our local economy. They are our family, friends and neighbors.

More than 80,000 Chula Vista residents leave our community to work in other parts of our county because we lack large work centers. This exodus costs us tax revenue as people spend their dollars where they work; strains our infrastructure from the wear and tear of unsustainable traffic; negatively impacts our environment while cars idle in traffic; and significantly reduces the quality of life when residents leave early and return late with little time to enjoy their community or spend time with their families. Long commutes have also been shown to increase heart disease and high blood pressure, digestive issues, mental illness, and even divorce rates.

As a city, we need to do a better job attracting large work centers. This will take careful planning and time, but our residents deserve that kind of forward thinking about their quality of life.

The good news is we can do something now to ensure more high-paying local jobs are available right here in Chula Vista: approve a citywide project labor agreement on major public works projects.

A project labor agreement would ensure the city is doing its part to help keep our local dollars circulating benefiting our local workforce and our local businesses — while solving the problems created by our current commuter culture. And it builds pride for one’s community when you get to be part of building it. Parents can point to the projects they had a hand in building while taking their kids to soccer on the weekend.

Measure E was approved by Chula Vista voters in 2020, clearing the way to pass a citywide project labor agreement just before the global pandemic impacted us all. Leaders turned their attention to connecting families with resources to keep them afloat. But work is coming back full swing now, and it’s time to ensure our local jobs provide high quality of life for Chula Vistans.

As Chula Vista grows, our community’s need for public and community services also grows. However, if we are not focused about increasing the revenue we need to support our community, then the community, our workers, and our local businesses all lose.

Zaneta Encarnacion is a candidate for mayor of Chula Vista.