Close to Home: A token living wage ordinance for county

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors will soon consider the final version of a living-wage law tentatively approved by the board in June.|

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors will soon consider the final version of a living-wage law tentatively approved by the board in June. County staff and the Blue Sky Consultant Group developed this legislation.

In September 2014, a coalition of labor, faith, environmental and community-based organizations unveiled our own living-wage law for the county. The coalition includes North Bay Jobs with Justice, North Bay Labor Council, North Bay Organizing Project, Sierra Club, Sonoma County Conservation Action and the Sonoma County Democratic Party.

We are extremely dismayed that the Board of Supervisors did not direct county staff to work with our coalition to revise our proposed ordinance, which is based on living-wage laws approved by the cities of Sebastopol, Sonoma and Petaluma, as well as on the best ordinances implemented elsewhere in the Bay Area and the nation.

At the June 9 meeting of the Board of Supervisors, attended by nearly 200 living-wage proponents, 60 people representing more than two-dozen organizations spoke in favor of our ordinance. In addition, our coalition presented the board with petitions signed by more than 2200 county residents.

Our coalition supports the recommendation of the supervisors to raise the wage rate to $15 an hour, to include coverage of large non-profits contracting with the county and to include a phase-in of the hourly wage rate. However, we cannot support the ordinance, which is currently under consideration by the board, for the following reasons:

The county’s proposed ordinance is not consistent with the county’s report, “A Portrait of Sonoma,” which recommends that the county “ensure that all jobs, including those that do not require a college degree, pay wages that afford workers the dignity of self-sufficiency and the peace of mind of economic security.” The report explicitly calls for building upon other living-wage ordinances implemented in the county to “raise the wage floor further.”

The proposed ordinance exempts far more workers from the $15-an-hour wage than it covers. In-Home-Supportive-Service workers, mental-health workers, waste-management employees, county-fair temporary workers and other workers employed by firms leasing property or receiving county concessions or franchises are excluded by the legislation.

The proposed ordinance perpetuates paying poverty wages to many employees of firms with economic ties to the county and does not reflect the values of economic and social justice that are the foundation of our campaign.

The proposed ordinance ignores all of the parts of our coalition’s draft ordinance designed to improve job quality, including a minimum of 12 days’ paid sick leave, opportunities for increased hours for part-time workers, a responsible-bidder provision ensuring compliance by contractors with labor, health-and-safety and environmental laws and a labor-peace provision protecting the right of workers employed by contractors to organize a union. Numerous living-wage ordinances adopted by cities, counties and airports in the Bay Area and California include these provisions. There is no cost to the jurisdictions for most of these good-job provisions.

The proposed ordinance fails to index the wage rate to the Consumer Price Index, leading to constant erosion of the buying power of low-wage workers.

The proposed ordinance undermines the right of private action by omitting attorney-fee recovery, and the county administrator is given unprecedented authority to recommend hardship waivers.

Our coalition strongly believes that, without major changes that address our concerns, the ordinance under consideration is an ineffective law that fails to directly address the main cause for growing inequality in the county: between 2010 and 2020, 50 percent of the new jobs created will pay less than a livable wage of $20 an hour. An effective ordinance should include mental-health workers, employees of large firms leasing property with concessions and franchises, and IHSS workers. Both Marin County’s living wage ordinance, implemented in 2002, and the San Francisco Countywide minimum wage ordinance, overwhelmingly approved by the voters in 2014, cover IHSS workers.

As it now stands, the legislation under consideration is a token living-wage law that will not address the crisis of low-wage employment in the county.

Matt Myres is a member of North Bay Jobs with Justice Steering Committee. Bleys W. Rose is spokesman for the Sonoma County Democratic Party.

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