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Fair using exemption to not pay overtime to some workers

The Sonoma County Fair is using a labor law exemption to avoid paying overtime to about 600 temporary workers during the 16-day fair.

Fair Manager Tawny Tesconi said the exemption — based on the fair's designation as an “amusement establishment” — would save about $20,000.

“Every dollar counts,” she said, noting that the fair paid about $25,000 in overtime last year.

The fair, which opened Thursday and runs through Aug. 11, employs nearly 600 temporary workers, including about 450 who work only during the fair as janitors and maintenance workers, ticket sellers and takers, parking lot attendants, racing grandstand ushers and other jobs.

The fair's permanent staff consists of 27 county employees, all but two of them full-time workers.

Tesconi, a fair manager for 26 years, said the overtime exemption is used by numerous other fairs but is new this year to the Sonoma County Fair. The exemption is permitted under the U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act for amusement or recreational establishments that meet certain criteria, she said.

Karen R. Smith, a Santa Rosa resident who lives near the fairgrounds, said she thought it was wrong to deny overtime pay based on “some kind of loophole.”

“It just seems like an unfair way to treat the people who help keep the fair running so smoothly,” she said.

The fair's temporary workers start at $8 an hour, which can go up by 40 cents an hour starting in their second year, Tesconi said.

Longtime temporary workers make $12 to $13 an hour in lead positions, and some have been there for several decades.

College students and teachers who have summers off work at the fair, along with people who have regular night-time jobs, Tesconi said.

The manager said she worked a temporary fair job as a teenager.

People who work at the food booths and other commercial booths and in the carnival area are not fair employees, Tesconi said.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com.

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