Sebastopol the kickoff point for county-wide campaign to raise the minimum wage

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Marty Bennett

MARTY BENNETT – Co-chair of the North Bay Jobs with Justice.

Under the current state law signed by Governor Jerry Brown in April 2016, minimum wage is on track to gradually increase until it hits the mark at $15 an hour in 2023.

Some local labor groups are saying that isn’t fast enough.

“To make housing affordable in Sonoma County, we must simultaneously raise the wage floor and find new revenue sources at the local and state level,” said Marty Bennett, co-chair of North Bay Jobs with Justice. “Raising the minimum wage is the fastest way to make housing more affordable.”

North Bay Jobs with Justice, the North Bay Labor Council and other community organizations are collaborating on a minimum wage campaign for a $15 an hour, city-wide minimum wage by 2020.

The organizations are delivering their plan to the cities of Novato, Petaluma, Sonoma, Santa Rosa and Sebastopol, in conjunction with a new study released on Nov. 19 called “The State of Working Sonoma 2018: A Profile of Income and Racial Inequality, Poverty and Low-Wage Employment.”

Under the group’s proposal, minimum wage would be raised to $12.75 on July 1, 2019, and to $15 on July 1, 2020 placing the cities on a faster timetable than the state as a whole.

The campaign leaders decided to visit Sebastopol first to encourage the pioneering city to step up to the plate and lead Sonoma County again. In 2003 Sebastopol made a historic move by passing a living wage ordinance raising hourly wages for city workers.

Bennett pointed out this fact during a study session presentation to the Sebastopol City Council on Nov. 13. He added that the living wage ordinance established a wage floor for public employees, but it was time to do more.

“We are now proposing a city-wide minimum wage law that covers all workers employed at least two hours a week in the city, at a workplace or working from home,” he said.

According to the California Budget and Policy Project, in 2017 a living wage for two parents in Sonoma County each working full-time with two children is $23 an hour or an annual family income of $81,353. This does not include any extra spending but allots just enough for basic necessities including food, child care, health care, transportation and housing without relying on any federal or state public assistance programs.

The group’s campaign is similar to plans adopted by cities in the South Bay increasing minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2019. Those cities include Cupertino, Palo Alto, Mountain View, Los Altos, Sunnyvale, San Jose and Santa Clara.

Jack Buckhorn, executive director of North Bay Labor Council, said according to University of California-Berkeley Labor Report, approximately 1,928 low-wage workers in Sebastopol will receive a wage increase if the city decides to adopt the $15 an hour minimum wage by 2020. The report also states more than 30 percent of Sonoma County workers earn less than $14 an hour.

Buckhorn said contrary to what some may believe, the majority of minimum wage workers do not work for small businesses but large employers, and most minimum wage workers are not teenagers.

“We are not going to solve the housing problem by building housing alone,” Buckhorn said.

The group hopes their proposed legislation will return to Sebastopol City Council in March 2019 for further discussion and approval.

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