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Sonoma County supervisors raise minimum living wage to $16.75 for county employees, contractors

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors has voted to increase its minimum living wage for the first time since 2015, when the board adopted the ordinance to combat poverty.

The increase, to $16.75 an hour, is up from the $15 rate the county implemented in July 2016.

The minimum rate applies to all county employees as well as the employees of some private companies and nonprofits who have contracts with the county.

“This is an improvement that we’re taking on today. It’s not a solution,” Supervisor Chris Coursey said. “$16.75 an hour probably does not get us to the point of economic dignity that we would all like. But it is an improvement.”

The county adopted the living wage ordinance in 2015 with a commitment to conduct annual reviews and consider any recommended updates.It but failed to do so, however, a lapse supervisors and staff said attributed to strain under local emergencies, including the pandemic and wildfires since 2017.

Deborah McKay, co-president of the Sonoma County League of Women Voters, urged supervisors to step up as a “wage champion” and ensure the board sticks to its annual review commitment.

“I think you’re looking at five living wage champions. I think all of us will be looking at our calendars as this year goes on, making sure that the agendas toward the end of the year include the review and the escalator information,” said Coursey, as his fellow board members nodded in agreement.

“We are not going to let this slip our minds, that’s my pledge.”

The new minimum rate will take effect Jan. 1, 2022 for all county employees and new contracts. Those with current contracts will have until April 1, 2022 to phase in the new rate.

Local labor groups, including Service Employees International Union — which represents the largest number of county employees — the North Bay Labor Council, the region’s largest coalition and advocacy group North Bay Jobs with Justice, have long been called on the board to move on living wage increase.

In September, North Bay Jobs with Justice and the North Bay Labor Council outlined proposed changes to the county’s ordinance. They requested a cost of living hike to cover 2019 to 2022, 12 sick days and personal days to all covered employees, more hours to current part-time employees before hiring new part-time employees and an expanded ordinance to cover the Sonoma County Fair’s 27 temporary employees and businesses operating at the county-owned Charles M. Schulz airport.

During a September board meeting on the proposed living wage increase, supervisors indicated they were open to the proposals, but on Tuesday county staff said they still needed to evaluate the impact of those changes on county departments.

“We have to review how it moves forward in the county and acknowledge that what we’re contemplating is not easily absorbed by existing staff,” Supervisor Susan Gorin said.

Most of the county government’s 4,000 employees make above the new minimum living wage.

County staff recommended the board take up any potential changes to the ordinance in late 2022, but local union leaders, labor advocates and a few employees urged the board not to wait that long renewed their calls for the board to adopt the cost of living adjustment and support the other provisions.

“The phrase ”if we’re going to support some of these provisions“ should not be uttered,” said SEIU 1021 Sonoma County Chapter President Jana Blunt. “What we’re talking about really is whether our lowest earning workers deserve basic human rights. The people on the receiving end of your actions are still going to be living under Sonoma County’s poverty line.”

The board agreed to take up the issue during their January retreat and explore ways to expedite any policy change.

You can reach Staff Writer Emma Murphy at 707-521-5228 or emma.murphy@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MurphReports.

Emma Murphy

County government, politics reporter

The decisions of Sonoma County’s elected leaders and those running county government departments impact people’s lives in real, direct ways. Your local leaders are responsible for managing the county’s finances, advocating for support at the state and federal levels, adopting policies on public health, housing and business — to name a few — and leading emergency response and recovery.
As The Press Democrat’s county government and politics reporter, my job is to spotlight their work and track the outcomes.

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