Supervisors to review county living wage ordinance

The California Employment Development Department estimates that between 2016 and 2026, more than two-thirds of jobs created in the county will pay less than a living wage of $23 an hour.

These numbers likely underestimate the problem of growing inequality in the North Bay area. A 2018 study by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and Rice University, “Damages Done: The Longitudinal Impacts of Natural Hazards on Wealth Inequality in the United States,” indicates that after each natural disaster, inequality regional worsen. Since the Tubbs Wildfire in 2017, the county has experienced two other devastating wildfires, including the Kincade Fire in 2019 and the Glass Fire in 2020. Additionally, in 2019, one of the most The largest floods in the county’s history occurred along the Lower Russian River, causing damage estimated at $155 million.

Proposed Revisions to County Living Wage Law

Due to frequent fires and Covid-19, the county has not annually reviewed or revised the living wage ordinance as North Bay Jobs with Justice and the North Bay Labor Council have requested. These organizations believe it is critical that the county prioritize, without further delay, public policies, such as the LWO, that address structural inequalities and promote a just and equitable recovery.

When the Supervisory Board passed the order in 2015, many issues remained unresolved and were set aside for further study. The council also omitted several vital provisions proposed by living wage supporters. Additionally, the county is no longer in compliance with its law, which requires supervisors and staff to review the law annually and consider applying a cost-of-living adjustment.

The law currently covers about 1,100 workers, including some part-time county workers such as park helpers. The majority of workers covered by the ordinance are employed by county contractors – for-profit and non-profit. Covered workers include janitors, security guards, landscapers, mental health, transit and homeless service workers, among others.

The North Bay Labor Council, North Bay Jobs with Justice, SEIU 1021 and the Alliance for a Just Recovery propose the following changes to make the law more comprehensive, robust and effective.

The revised law is expected to include county airport and county fairground workers, doubling the number of workers covered. In addition, the law is expected to cover new vegetation management and fire protection workers hired with anticipated federal government funding. A revised order is also expected to grant all covered workers 12 days paid sick leave; impose overtime for part-time workers who wish to work full-time; and include a worker retention provision for workers employed by a county contractor whose contract is not renewed.

The order states that the council should consider applying a COLA to the living wage rate each year. For the past six years, the council has not done that. Supporters are calling for an approximate 13% raise this year (based on the Bay Area CPI from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the annual CPI provided to county employees), bringing the wage rate vital at nearly $17 an hour.

Finally, supervisors should include a “responsible bidder” provision to ensure the county only contracts with companies that have an excellent record of compliance with federal and state labor, health and safety, and environmental laws. ‘environment.

For example, a 2009 report by the National Employment Law Project (NELP) found widespread violations in low-wage industries such as construction services, clothing, and food service. The study concluded that low-wage workers in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago lost more than $2,600 a year due to wage theft. San Francisco, Santa Clara and San Jose all have responsible bidder policies in place. The NELP report demonstrates that such a policy protects the public interest and effectively discourages wage theft.

The living wage: racial and gender justice, the environment and COVID-19

A revised, robust, and expanded LWO will directly address structural inequality and racism, as most low-wage workers affected are workers of color, women, and immigrant workers. The ordinance review is also an environmental issue, as covered workers will live closer to where they work and won’t have to commute from more affordable housing markets outside the county. A revised ordinance will also ensure that the county contracts only with the lowest responsible bidders who have an excellent record of compliance with environmental laws.

Finally, seven in ten low-wage workers do not have paid sick leave beyond the three days mandated by state law. The workers covered by the LWO are overwhelmingly low-wage essential workers who cannot work remotely. Revising the Living Wages Act to include 12 paid sick days will allow these workers to better cope with future medical emergencies such as Covid-19.

The council will consider the ordinance on Tuesday, September 21. Please go to for more information.

Martin J. Bennett is an instructor emeritus of history at Santa Rosa Junior College and a research and policy analyst for UNITE HERE 2850, a union representing North Bay hotel, restaurant and gaming workers. He served as co-chair of the Sonoma County Living Wage Coalition between 2000 and 2015.

Michael A. Bynum