Growing up in Coachella Valley, Jose Rodriguez witnessed his parents work long, hard hours to make ends meet while raising a family.
His mother a full-time housekeeper, and father a full-time landscaper, did their best to provide for their five children while earning a minimum wage, which more times than not was not enough.
Experiencing his parents’ struggles living off of minimum wage income in jobs that required demanding hours, and offered no overtime or pay raises, Rodriguez said he knew he had to change the system.
This led him to run for City Council in National City, one of the poorest cities in the county.
“It’s very difficult now in America. It is very difficult to make it in to the middle class,” he said. “National City residents deserve higher wages.”
Rodriguez, 31, fully supports an increase to the minimum wage, especially in National City. The state-mandated minimum wage is $10 per hour. Rodriguez said he would like to see National City’s minimum wage increase to $15 an hour for large businesses. He called $15 an hour a “standard living wage.”
If elected, he said he will serve the nearly 60,000 residents by requiring large businesses in the city such as Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, Starbucks and other giant corporations to pay their employees a higher working wage.
“Places like that are multi-billion dollar companies,” he said. “They can afford to invest in our community a little more by investing in their own workers.”
For small businesses, he said, the statewide minimum wage will eventually bring them up to $15 per hour in 2022.
Rodriguez believes higher wages will not only benefit workers but will also have positive effects for the National City economy.
He said a higher minimum wage in National City means workers are paying more in local taxes, which he said translates into more revenue for the city budget and more money to pay for city services.
“The solution to our problems isn’t to raise taxes, the solution is to increase wages so that people spend more so that they pay more in taxes and hence our budget grows more,” he said.
Rodriguez considers himself a “workers’ advocate” and has the support of labor unions in his race.
When he is off the campaign trail, Rodriguez spends his time as a stay-at-home father to his three young daughters.
His wife, Sandra Rodriguez, works as a dual immersion teacher at an elementary school in El Cajon.
He last worked for the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council for nearly five years, where he was tasked with organizing, structuring and running political campaigns of candidates backed by the union.
He left that job in March to focus on his campaign.
Rodriguez admits his stance on raising the minimum wage in National City is not a popular one.
“If I’m going to run for office I am going to run on the ideals that I believe in. That I whole-heartedly believe in,” he said.
Rodriguez left Coachella Valley for San Diego to attend college. He attended San Diego City College before transferring to San Diego State University where he earned a bachelor’s degree in history.
Rodriguez and his wife bought a home in National City three years ago.
“I felt at home here,” he said. “There are hard-working people here, just like the people I met every day in the [Coachella] Valley.”
Rodriguez said he wants a National City that can prosper.
“My vision for National City would be one in which most of our families are homeowners, where most of our families are part of the middle class and have good jobs, God willing have enough money to take vacations,” he said. “I wish for once we would focus on the middle class, I wish for once we focus on what the working people need in our community.”