Open Mic: Sonoma County Workers Deserve a Raise

Labor groups urge County Supervisors to update Living Wage Ordinance

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors approved a Living Wage Ordinance (LWO) in 2015 which mandates that the County and county contractors pay their workers at least $15 an hour. Covered workers include park aids, security guards, janitors, transit, mental health, and homeless services workers amongst others. The law requires that the County annually review the ordinance and consider a cost-of-living increase (COLA). However, the board has not reviewed the law due to multiple natural disasters.

Proponents of the ordinance, including North Bay Jobs with Justice, North Bay Labor Council, and the Alliance for A Just Recovery, have urged the board to revise numerous provisions and include new provisions to make the legislation more comprehensive and effective. In addition to applying a COLA for 2017-2021 (increasing the living wage rate to more than $17 an hour), advocates urge that the board approve 12 paid sick days for all affected workers and expand coverage to include workers at the county fair, the county airport, and new employees hired for fire prevention and vegetation management.

At their meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 21st, the Supervisors will review the LWO. Residents are urged to attend the online meeting and contact the board (see the link below) to express their support.

More than 120 local jurisdictions nationwide, including 43 cities and counties in California, have adopted living wage legislation. The cities of Sebastopol (2003), Sonoma (2004), and Petaluma (2006) have implemented living wage laws. The California state minimum wage of $14 an hour for large employers (and $13 for small) is not a livable wage.

According to the United Way of California, a self-sufficiency or living wage for Sonoma County in 2021 is $23 an hour for two parents each working full -time to support two children and to pay for food, rent, childcare, health care, transportation, and taxes.

Living wage advocates contend that to address skyrocketing inequality taxpayer dollars should not create poverty-wage jobs. Given the high cost of living, Sonoma County, the largest employer and contractor in the North Bay, should set wages above the state minimum to enable the lowest paid to make ends meet.

Martin J. Bennett is Instructor Emeritus of History at Santa Rosa Junior College and a Research and Policy Analyst for UNITE HERE 2850, a union representing hotel, food service, and gaming workers. He served as Co-Chair of the Sonoma County Living Wage Coalition from 2000-2015. For more information about the county Living Wage campaign: http://www.northbayjobswithjustice.org

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