Sonoma County supervisors to consider living wage increase for lowest-paid employees, contractors

The Tuesday vote would raise the hourly rate by 2.74%, bringing it to $17.25 for county employees and the employees of large county contractors.|

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors is poised to increase the living wage rate earned by the lowest-paid county employees and employees of contractors working with the county.

The vote, set to take place during the board’s Tuesday meeting, will raise the hourly rate by 2.74%, bringing it to $17.25.

This will be the second living wage increase since 2016.

“All workers deserve the opportunity to earn a wage they can live on,” said Supervisor James Gore, the board chair.

If passed, the increase would take effect for county employees on Jan. 1, 2023. Nonprofits and businesses with a contract already in place with the county would have until March 31 to implement the increase, a county staff report said.

The living wage rate is calculated based on factors including the consumer price index for urban consumers and the county’s economic health. The Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics’ October 2022 Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers was 6%, according to the staff report.

The county adopted its living wage ordinance in 2015 and committed to hold annual reviews, but failed to do so, a lapse supervisors and staff attributed to the strain of local emergencies, including the COVID-19 pandemic and repeated wildfires.

The first living wage increase since 2016 came in December 2021, when the board raised the rate from $15 an hour to $16.75. That increase led to approximately $100,000 in increased contract costs, the staff report said.

The report also noted that most contractors pay above the county’s current living wage rate.

At the time of the 2021 increase the board also recommitted to its promise of revisiting the living wage rate annually.

The board’s expected vote Tuesday comes as it considers changes to the county’s living wage policy amid pressure from local labor unions who want the board to expand the scope of its ordinance and establish a higher pay-and-benefits floor for county-affiliated workers.

“As the largest employer in the county, we are leading by example in raising the living wage for all our contracted services,” Gore said. “We will revisit the issue again next spring and continue to explore additional actions we can take to improve the living wage ordinance.”

During a board meeting in October, county staff outlined 12 recommended changes that included requiring minimum paid-time-off allotments, expanding the policy to apply to contractors at the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport and Sonoma County Fair and establishing a schedule for regular rate increases.

Labor advocates have argued the board should adopt the changes, in light of the county’s position as the largest employer in the region. Advocates also stressed the importance of the changes, citing the economic pressures of inflation and the high local cost of living.

A straw poll taken during the board’s Oct. 18 meeting indicated all five supervisors were interested in exploring the 12 recommendations.

County staff are expected to bring revisions to those proposals back to the board for consideration by March 31, the staff report said.

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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