The Sonoma County Fair should restore overtime pay for temporary workers, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors said Tuesday, though members acknowledged they have limited power to force the change.
"I do feel very strongly that this is a social justice issue," said Supervisor Shirlee Zane, the strongest voice on the board for restoring the overtime funding.
The county Fair Board eliminated the overtime pay for about 600 temporary workers for the 2013 fair, a move that saved about $29,000 for the cash-strapped organization. They were permitted to make the change under federal rules that exempt many short-term entertainment events from paying overtime; fair officials say at least 46 other fairs around the state do not pay such workers overtime.
Labor leaders and the county's Democratic Party, however, reacted strongly against the policy, leaning on supervisors to demand a return to overtime pay.
"Denying those at the bottom of the pay scale the overtime pay they have traditionally enjoyed is not appropriate," party Chairman Stephen Gale said at Tuesday's meeting.
Lisa Maldonado, executive director of the North Bay Labor Council, said the fact that other fairs do not pay overtime is no justification.
"It is not the right policy for the county," she said. "It helps exacerbate the very causes of income disparity."
But fair leaders say restoring the overtime will not put more money in the pockets of workers since the fair has no money with which to pay them. Workers would simply be restricted to working no more than 40 hours a week and then sent home.
Longtime fair supervisor Dorothy Henderson told the board that many of her workers were young people earning extra money for college and they had been eager to work the extra hours for regular pay. Older workers and others who did not want to work beyond their regular shifts were not required to do so.
Temporary workers earn between $8 and $30 per hour, depending on the type of job and their seniority. The vast majority earn between $8 and $14, according to the fair.