The Sonoma County Democratic Party is demanding that county fair officials reverse a decision denying overtime pay to about 600 temporary workers at the annual event.
In a letter to the board of supervisors Monday, party Chairman Stephen Gale sharply criticized the decision, saying the policy will save about $20,000 at the same time the fair is spending more than twice that for catered lunches for VIPs, a longstanding tradition at the fair.
"There is no such thing as a free lunch," he wrote. "In this case, the lowest paid temporary workers are subsidizing a free lunch the county provides to some of the most affluent members of our community."
The meals in what is known as the Directors Room are a fair board tradition going back many decades. Meals for invited guests are served in a shaded patio behind the fair administration building. Alcoholic beverages are included.
The affected workers serve as ticket takers, ushers, janitors, and parking lot attendants at the 16-day fair. They supplement the 27 full-time staff; about 450 of the 600 work only during the fair and the rest work at other temporary jobs with the county.
The policy is legal, since federal law exempts certain types of "amusement establishments" from rules requiring overtime pay, but this is the first year the fair has invoked the exemption.
Fair Manager Tawny Tesconi did not return a phone call requesting comment on the letter.
At their regular meeting Tuesday, the supervisors seemed inclined to at least discuss intervening.
"I for one would be happy to pay 10 or 15 dollars for lunch when I go over there and get those employees paid," Supervisor Shirlee Zane said.
Zane said after the meeting that she remains supportive of the fair board and staff, but she said the Democratic Party raised "a fair question to ask."