Sonoma County Living Wage Law Needs Overhaul
The Board of Supervisors passed a living wage ordinance in 2015 requiring the county and large contractors to pay workers $15 an hour. The law also requires the council to consider applying a cost-of-living adjustment each year. Additionally, supervisors have asked staff to meet with advocates to develop language for additional provisions.
Five years, three fires and a flood later, the council will soon complete its deliberations.
By revising the law, supervisors can make the county, North Bay’s largest employer and contractor, a model employer and demonstrate their commitment to addressing structural inequality and systemic racism in the workplace.
Since 1995, more than 120 cities and counties across the country, including Sebastopol, Sonoma, Petaluma and 40 others in California, have enacted living wage laws in response to soaring inequality and the vast expansion of low-income jobs. wages. The fundamental tenet of this movement is that taxpayer funding should not create poverty-wage jobs. Every resident deserves a salary that allows them to support their families without depending on government assistance.
In Sonoma County, according to the United Way of California, a living wage is $23 an hour for two parents, each working full time to support two children and pay rent, health care, food, childcare, transportation and taxes.
The most recent census data shows that between 1980 and 2018, inflation-adjusted wages stagnated or declined for the county’s poorest 60 percent of workers. For the bottom 20%, wages fell by more than 10%. Then, between 2000 and 2018, gross annual rents increased by 25%, but tenant incomes only increased by 2% per year.
Thus, low-wage workers struggle to make ends meet.
They face housing overcrowding, evictions, displacement and homelessness, compounded by COVID. Disproportionately, low-income people, Latinos and other minorities are the hardest hit by economic dislocation and COVID.
As a result, a broad coalition of labour, environmental and faith-based organizations called for a revision of the ordinance to account for inflation, expand its reach and include paid sick leave.
The purchasing power of the minimum wage has eroded over time because neither Congress nor the state legislature has required an automatic annual cost-of-living adjustment. Applying for a six-year COLA would raise living wages in Sonoma County to more than $17 an hour. Sevastopol, which since 2004 has approved a COLA every year, now has a living wage of $21.57 an hour.
The county ordinance currently affects 1,100 workers employed by the county and large county contractors. Supporters are urging the council to expand coverage to include the county fair and the airport, which could double the number of workers affected.
Almost all of these workers — janitorial, landscaping, mental health, park aides, transit, security and homeless services — are essential workers who cannot work from home. The majority are workers of color, women and new immigrants.
Revised order expected to include 12 paid sick days per year for covered workers; a more robust worker retention provision for employees of a county contractor whose contract is not renewed; and a responsible bidders provision requiring major contractors to maintain an excellent record of compliance with federal and state labor, health and safety, and environmental laws.
It is also crucial to recognize the effect of our local campaigns on state and national minimum wage policy. After fast food workers’ strikes in New York City in 2012 demanding $15 an hour and a union, living wage campaigns merged with the national “Fight for $15” campaign.
The fight for $15 exposed the deplorable conditions of low-wage workers and helped shift public opinion to pressure state legislatures to raise the minimum wage. As a result, starting with California in 2016, 11 states and the District of Columbia, representing 40% of the U.S. workforce, raised their minimum wage to $15 an hour, and most impose a COLA. annual.
According to a recent Pew Research Center poll, 62% of Americans support raising the current federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $15 an hour. President Joe Biden supports the Wage Increase Act to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2025. If Democrats expand their Senate and House majorities during the 2022 midterms, they will enact definitely a federal minimum wage of $15.
Martin J. Bennett is a research and policy associate for UNITE HERE Local 2850.
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