The growing movement toward an increased minimum wage will finally get a hearing before the Sonoma City Council at its next meeting, on Monday, Feb. 4.
The call to accelerate the state-planned increase to $15 an hour is being heard in multiple cities in the high-cost-of-living North Bay, with wage proponents pushing municipalities to reach the $15 benchmark by summer of 2020.
The state minimum wage is currently $10.50 an hour, with increases to $12.75 later this year. By law it will increase to $15 on Jan. 1, 2022, for employees who have 26 or more employees, and a year later for employers who have 25 or fewer employees. Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA) will add to the minimum wage in years thereafter.
The Sonoma City Council had expressed interested in establishing a higher minimum wage back in 2014, when council members voted 3-2 to hire consultants to research the impacts of such a wage hike. But a shift in council members accompanied a shift in priorities and a wage study never occurred.
In a meeting in December of 2017, Councilmember Amy Harrington called for the council to revisit a possible minimum wage ordinance and the council voted 5-0 to schedule a study session on the matter.
But by that time, a local wage-advocacy group called North Bay Jobs with Justice had already jumped into the game.
Sonoma resident Marty Bennett, co-chair North Bay Jobs with Justice, contacted city officials to let them know they, in partnership with other local labor groups, had commissioned a study of the economic impacts of a $15 citywide minimum wage for the North Bay counties of Sonoma, Marin, Napa and Solano.
“Our intent is to establish a regional minimum wage higher than the state,” said Bennett, who has lived in Sonoma for 25 years. He informally calls the campaign “15 by 2020.”
The study from the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education – or, UCB Labor Center – was released in October, titled “Estimated Impact of a Proposed Minimum Wage Law for the North Bay.” The UCB study will form the basis of Monday’s city council discussion.
The cornerstone of the study is found in the overview’s first sentence – “... to propose a $15-an-hour citywide minimum wage by 2020 to the cities of Novato, Petaluma, Sonoma, Sebastopol and Santa Rosa.”
For Bennett and other minimum wage proponents, the drive to get to $15 an hour two years ahead of schedule is a strong motivator. “The housing crisis is near-catastrophic,” he said. “An actual living wage for Sonoma County is $23 an hour, particularly given high housing costs.” He emphasized the tight relationship between the campaign for higher minimum wage and the cost of living in Sonoma County and elsewhere.
The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, but local governments can set higher pay levels within their jurisdictions, with state trumping federal and cities trumping state, at least in California.
However, wage proponents don’t think that goes fast, or far, enough.
“Up and down California you see this movement of cities to increase the minimum wage higher than the state,” said Bennett. Many of the major cities in Southern California are reaching toward that benchmark, and Los Angeles County implemented a $15 hourly wage in non-incorporated areas.