Sonoma County Board of Supervisors considers living wage policy changes

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors is evaluating changes to its Living Wage Policy that would increase the minimum wage and benefits for the lowest-paid county employees and employees of county contractors.

Hotly debated changes on the table include expanding the policy to apply to contractors at Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport and Sonoma County Fairgrounds, requiring minimum paid time off allotments and establishing a timeline for regular price increases.

On Tuesday, county staff presented the board with 12 recommended changes developed in conjunction with a board committee made up of supervisors Lynda Hopkins and David Rabbitt.

“This is a deep-dive policy,” said supervisor James Gore, chairman of the board.

The board discussed the proposals on Tuesday but is not expected to vote until early 2023.

The changes, if passed, are expected to affect private businesses and nonprofits that have contracts with the county.

The debate has come under sustained pressure from trade union rights defenders that are pushing the county to expand the scope of its ordinance and establish a higher pay and benefits floor for county-affiliated workers.

“As the greatest employer, as the greatest entrepreneur, what you are doing sends a signal to the industry and to the community,” North Bay Jobs executive director Max Bell Alper told the board on Tuesday. with Justice, a non-profit group. “We ask you to be bold here.”

In December 2021, council increased living wage from $15 per hour to $16.75 per hour – the first increase since the county implemented a living wage in 2016.

At the time, this decision increased the salaries of approximately 1,200 workers employed by the county and major county contractors – including park helpers, animal care, security, janitorial, landscape, mental health, recycling and other low-wage workers.

This came as cities across the country established higher minimum wages for low-wage workers in their jurisdictions.

The county’s narrower policy — which only includes county employees and contractors — has remained a topic of debate among workers’ rights advocates and local employers.

The Supervisory Board is expected to consider another rate increase in December in a vote separate from the proposed policy overhaul.

On Tuesday, staff presented a proposal to adjust the rate each year based on factors such as the consumer price index for urban consumers and the economic health of the county.

The recommendation also includes a proposal to cap San Mateo County’s similar annual adjustment, which limits increases to 3.5%, according to the staff report.

Staff also recommended changing the effective date of each new rate from January to July each year, to align with the county’s tax calendar.

It would mean employees in this cycle would have to wait 18 months instead of 12 months since the last increase, which took effect in January – a point that worries supervisor Susan Gorin and Gore.

“I’m really worried about all these people, especially the county employees who are in shock from the inflation we’re seeing,” Gorin said.

Another sticking point for Gorin was a county recommendation to exempt county employees from paid sick leave requirements, meaning such a mandate, like a 12-day stipend, would only apply. to contractors under the revised policy.

County Administrator Sheryl Bratton said paid leave is set during labor negotiations with the county. Gorin wondered why the county would be reluctant to set a floor.

“I’m disappointed in the county and this council is not at the forefront of saying we want all of our employees to have 12 paid sick days,” Gorin said. “I understand that you want to preserve that in the negotiations. I am disappointed that we cannot be a county that asserts this advantage.

Labor advocates have been calling on the council to update its order from last year, citing the county’s role as Sonoma County’s largest employer and the economic pressure workers are under due to inflation and the high local cost of living.

About 15 speakers from local task forces lined up to address the council in person and via Zoom on Tuesday. They urged the council to support a more robust policy.

“By revising the ordinance, the county can become a model for public employment and ensure that taxpayer dollars create decent paying jobs – when large private companies are given county contracts, grants, exclusive concessionaires or rental of public property,” Marty Bennett said. , board member of the North Bay Labor Council, the largest local labor coalition.

Michael A. Bynum