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Living Wage Coalition Holds Community Forum
by Jennifer Fletcher
Friday Apr 16th, 2004 1:28 PM
The Living Wage Coalition of Sonoma County is one of the many coalitions in the United States dedicated to the rights of people to earn a wage that can support them. This article speaks of the gains of the organization and movement as well as a proposed Ordinance for a Living Wage in Sonoma, Ca.
Living Wage Coalition Holds Community Forum
By Jennifer Fletcher

The Living Wage Coalition of Sonoma County held a community forum to address the ordinance proposed to the Sonoma City Council as well as the Living Wage movement at large at the First Congregational Church in Sonoma on March 25th.

The proposed ordinance to the City of Sonoma is similar to Sebastopol's’ recently implemented ordinance. It proposes a wage of $11.70 per hour with medical benefits, $13.20 without benefits, for city employees, city contractors or firms who lease property from the city or receive more than $100,000 per year in City financial assistance such as redevelopment funding. The ordinance also requires wages to be increased annually in order to keep up with inflation of the market, compensated time off, the ability to organize and seek union representation as well as forcing the city to make bidders for city service contracts prove their compliance history to health, environmental and safety regulations.

Approximately forty people, mainly middle aged men and women, came to hear what the ordinance could do for the city workers in the town of Sonoma as well as the gains that this movement has made in other areas of the county. The Coalition is dedicated to improving the quality of life for individuals and hopes that ordinances to demand a living wage will establish a standard for every town to follow in this county as well as the state and nation. Ben Boyce, Chair on the Interfaith Committee on Living Wages in Sonoma County and the Moderator of this evenings forum states, "We work to create greater equity and fairness in our own county.", and explains that the most important issue is to improve the quality of life for people and in order for this to be accomplished the issue of affordable housing and a living wage must be solved. Currently 116 Living Wage ordinances have been passed at the city and county level across this country as well as 100 others pending.

The forum was lead by a panel of individuals dedicated to the living wage movement. Marty Bennett, Co-Chair of the Living Wage Coalition and History Professor at the Santa Rosa Junior College, explained that since 1994 there has been a growth of the working poor which is defined by the Federal Poverty line as an income of $36,000 a year. There is a considerable growth in low wage jobs in this county and it is expected to reach over 40,000 low wage jobs over the next decade. This job growth perpetuates the "working poor" which currently one in four workers fall into this bracket. In addition, as the eighth most expensive county in the nation 16% of workers are classified as the "working poor".

Dawn Farmer, a licensed Certified Nursing Assistant and a single mother of two who works for In Home Support Services in Sonoma, provides care for her elderly mother who has had numerous strokes, heart attacks, diabetes as well as other medical problems that cause her to need long term care. Dawn, who works more than 280 hours per week providing care, struggles to live on the $9.50 per hour she gets paid for her work, which does not include the additional hours that she spends caring for her mother unpaid. With a take home pay of about $1700 a month, after paying nearly $1,000 a month for rent as well as a lack of medical benefits this woman continues to struggle while working above full-time.

Sara Flocks, a member of the Young Workers United and the San Francisco Living Wage Coalition, spoke joyfully of the Minimum Wage Ordinance that was passed in San Francisco in November. Proposition L, increased the minimum wage in San Francisco to over $8.00 per hour, and passed by 60% in the election. The proposition was written by Young Workers United and the Minimum Wage Coalition with the hopes of building a coalition of low wage workers to fight economic injustice. San Francisco was successful. Flocks states, "we couldn’t change the boss but we could change the law.".

The Living Wage Movement continues to grow around the country with the hope that the ordinances passed at the city level will create a regional norm of a living wage as well as economic justice more broadly.

For more information regarding the Living Wage Coalition visit http://www.livingwagesonoma.org


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