San Mateo County Enacts “Living Wage” Ordinance

LivWage2Low-wage employees of contractors who provide services to San Mateo County will see their pay rise to $17 per hour, under the county’s new Living Wage Ordinance. The ordinance goes into effect January 1, 2017, when wages rise to $14 an hour, with a second hike to $15 an hour six months later; a third raise to $16 on July 1, 2018; before hitting $17 an hour on July 1, 2019.

While the Living Wage Ordinance covers all businesses that provide services to the county, Supervisor Carole Groom highlighted the work of nonprofit contractors in her remarks at the October 18th Board meeting.

“We value the contribution of employees of our nonprofits who perform services to the county,” such as substance abuse counseling, mental health and health care services. Groom added, “These nonprofit agencies will have an easier time recruiting and retaining employees.”

The Raise the Wage Coalition, led by the San Mateo Labor Council and the SMC Union Community Alliance, pressed county supervisors for an ordinance to ensure that when the county contracts with an outside business for services that these taxpayer dollars were not creating poverty-level jobs. The coalition argued that a single adult living in San Mateo County would need to earn at least $17 an hour to cover just the basic costs of living — housing, food, transportation and health care.

The Board of Supervisors responded by establishing a committee, chaired by Supervisors Groom and Dave Pine, to study the issue. San Mateo Labor Council Director of Community Services Rayna Lehman and representatives of the county’s nonprofit contract agencies served on the committee, which met during the winter and spring of 2016.

With the adoption of the Living Wage Ordinance, Lehman said, “The county is working to address income inequality. We are excited to work in partnership with the county as it implements and enforces the new ordinance.”

The Raise the Wage Coalition will continue to monitor the implementation of the ordinance to ensure there are no unintended consequences. Specifically, if the county does not provide sufficient funding to its nonprofit contractors, these agencies might be forced to cut services or staff in order to finance the higher salaries.

The county will increase its contracts with nonprofit agencies by $4.2 million over the next two years to fund higher staff salaries.

While county staff incorporated a number of improvements in the final ordinance, based on comments from the wage coalition and its nonprofit agencies, in a letter to the Board of Supervisors, the coalition raised a number of concerns involving the ordinance’s implementation:

  • The County should fully fund the costs of the living wage to ensure the ordinance does not result in cuts in staff or services at nonprofit agencies;
  • Annual reviews of the ordinance’s effectiveness should include any investigations, audits, and enforcement actions taken to ensure compliance; and requests for exemptions and for budget enhancements; and
  • The County should conduct random payroll audits of its contractors to ensure compliance, rather than solely relying on employee complaints.
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