Council OKs ‘accelerated’ minimum wage
Sonoma’s lowest paid employees are about to get a raise.
That’s because the Sonoma City Council on Monday moved to ratchet up its minimum wage beyond the state’s timetable to bring the minimum hourly rate to $15.
The state has been raising its minimum wage in yearly increments since 2017, when legislators approved a plan to raise the wage floor for large employers to $15 by 2022, and all other employers by 2023. The current minimum wage is $12 an hour – but many in Sonoma have argued that the higher cost of living in the city warrants paying workers at a rate above the state minimum.
A combination of rising housing prices and wage stagnation has made residing in Sonoma nearly untenable for many of the city’s lowest-income workers.
Under the council’s plan, Sonoma’s minimum wage would beat the state to $15 by six months and reach $16 across the board in June of 2023 – a dollar more per hour than the state minimum is expected to be at that time.
“This is something we have to do in Sonoma,” said City Councilmember Rachel Hundley, who created the timetable the council ultimately approved. “Everybody’s feeling really squeezed.”
It was Councilmember Amy Harrington who a year ago initially called for the council to examine increasing the city minimum wage at a more accelerated rate than the state’s plan – arguing that Sonoma’s higher cost of living warranted a higher wage floor.
Since then, several North Bay municipalities have initiated talks about increasing their minimum wages – some looking at more accelerated rates than Sonoma’s. The call in labor circles for a $15 minimum by 2020 has resulted in the rallying cry, “15 by 20.”
The local effort to accelerate the increase has gotten a push from a group called North Bay Jobs with Justice (NBJJ), a county-based labor coalition of 20 unions and other local organizations affiliated with a national network of labor groups.
Mara Ventura, executive director of North Bay Jobs with Justice, at the May 6 meeting described the housing situation as “catastrophic.”
“We are experiencing the displacement of low-income families from the city, if not the Sonoma Valley,” said Ventura, who lobbied the council for a $15 by 2020 increase in order to keep workers from having to relocate to other counties. “The rent simply can’t wait,” she said.
Valley resident Mario Castillo also spoke to the need for wage relief – mentioning that he’d taken a job in Marin County due to the higher wages he could earn.
“(We) need to recognize the social inequity that exists for those who do the hard labor and make Sonoma a special place,” said Castillo, who added that Sonoma’s mantra that “everybody’s welcome here” needs to be reflected in public policy. “It’s time for the City of Sonoma to (practice) what they preach.”
Sonoma resident Ben Boyce also spoke to the need for a better wage. “If a person works full time, they should not live in poverty,” said Boyce.
Few commenters at the meeting argued against a minimum wage increase, though several representatives from the Sonoma restaurant community were in attendance to lobby the council for an exemption for tipped employees. Servers, such as wait staff and others, often earn minimum wage, but take home well beyond that after tips are factored in.