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Santa Clara County Heads Toward Cutting Edge Living Wage Policy

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors took the first step toward establishing the nation’s most comprehensive living wage ordinance.  On a unanimous vote, the Board directed County Administration to develop a framework for an ordinance that would set a new standard of higher wages, healthcare security and a better standard of living for tens of thousands of low wage workers in Silicon Valley.

 The full text of the board referral is available here.

 Community based organizations, labor unions and public policy groups are advocating for a Silicon Valley Living Wage that would draw on “best practices” from some of the 120 other local jurisdictions that have already enacted Living Wage laws.

 “As the primary provider of safety net services, the County has both a moral and a financial incentive to do what we can to promote fair pay for hard work,” said Santa Clara County Supervisor Yeager, who along with Supervisor Dave Cortese co-authored the Board referral to study the ordinance. “Other living wage ordinances have improved the lives of workers at little or no cost to taxpayers. I want to engage local stakeholders to explore the options and implications of such an ordinance here.”

 Groups including the South Bay Labor CouncilWorking Partnerships USA and SEIU Local 521 support a wage that would allow workers to be self-sufficient and is indexed to inflation. Fulltime workers could earn enough to transition off public assistance and other safety net services, potentially saving millions in taxpayer dollars.  Ideally, the Silicon Valley Living Wage would incentivize hiring from our local, diverse workforce to help keep jobs and spending in Santa Clara County, encourage public transportation to cut down on smog and greenhouse gasses, and reduce prison recidivism by giving formerly incarcerated residents a fair shot at employment and rehabilitation.

 “The living wage policy will improve the lives of thousands of workers and stimulate spending in the local economy at the same time.  Santa Clara County absolutely needs a policy like that,” said Supervisor Dave Cortese.

 If passed, the county ordinance would primarily impact the tens of thousands of workers employed by businesses and organizations that serve as vendors, receive subsidies from the county or pay below market rents for county owned property.

 “The living wage policy will help workers lift themselves out of poverty,” said Ben Field, Executive Officer of the South Bay Labor Council. “And the whole community, not just those workers, will benefit.”

 “We really see this as a next-generation living wage. Something that we hope serves as a model for other counties, cities and even private industry,” explains Derecka Mehrens of Working Partnerships USA, which, along with the Labor Council and SEIU Local 521, is leading the charge for the new ordinance.

 The proposal comes at a time of increasing public discourse about income inequality, when Silicon Valley has become ground zero for the growing disparity between haves and have-nots. Compensation for the lowest-paid employees has not kept pace with economic growth in the region. The cost of living in Santa Clara County has risen by 25% since 2008, and 30% of our residents now fall below the Self Sufficiency Standard.

  “When workers are exploited, it doesn’t just make them poorer, it affects their families, their neighbors and our entire community,” says Luisa Blue, Chief Elected Officer of SEIU Local 521 and a proponent of the ordinance. “It’s time to put our community first and adopt the Silicon Valley Living Wage.”

 With approximately 15,000 employees, the County of Santa Clara is among the top three largest employers within the county, and its roughly $2.5 billion in annual procurement extends its economic reach even further.

 Supporters and advocates of a Silicon Valley Living Wage will campaign to ensure that the final ordinance is as comprehensive and as impactful as possible before County Supervisors take a final vote later this year.

Originally posted on The Left Hook.

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