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For a Few Dollars More

2015 is the summer of $15: How about it, Sonoma County?

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Under the terms of the Sonoma County living-wage ordinance, county spokeswoman Rebecca Wachsberg says, both companies would be on the hook to pay their county-affiliated workers $15 when contracts are re-signed or amended.

The catch: It could be a while.

Sonoma County Transportation and Public Works director Susan Klassen says there are two contracts split between the respective companies. "There is the master operations agreement with Republic Services for operation of the county landfill and transfer stations," she says via email. "It was originally approved by the board in 2013, but became effective in April 2015. The term of the agreement is technically for the life of the landfill, estimated to be greater than 25 years. The Ratto group is a subcontractor to Republic Services in this agreement. They provide operations for the transfer stations."

The other contract, says Klassen, is a "county franchise agreement for curbside and commercial collection of garbage and recycling in the unincorporated county. It is with the Ratto Group. It started in 2009, and ends 20 years later, in 2029."

So one contract is for at least 25 years and the other is for 20. Wachsberg, however, says that "the chances of their not being amended is not very likely" over the duration of the contracts.

Ratto Group spokesman Eric Koenigshofer says the company hasn't taken a position on the ordinance. "We're neutral on it, and as far as I know, we are subject to it." He says that a "brand-new, day-one employee on the recycling line [starts at] $9.50."

But Ratto workers' wages climb into the $24-an-hour range for drivers, and, says Koenigshofer, the company offers everyone a health plan after 90 days with no employee contribution beyond a nominal co-pay. Depending on the employee's family situation, he says, that can translate into between about $600 and $1,800 a month worth of benefits paid by the company. "It adds a lot to the total compensation," says Koenigshofer.

BORN CAREGIVER Carol Taylor loves being an IHSS worker, but the pay sucks. - MICHAEL AMSLER
  • Michael Amsler
  • BORN CAREGIVER Carol Taylor loves being an IHSS worker, but the pay sucks.

Carol Taylor is an IHSS worker who lives in the town of Sonoma and has been fighting for better wages for herself and other workers for a long time. She's been in the business for 14 years—"This time around," she says—and first started doing the in-home care work when her husband was sick. "I nursed him until he died," says Taylor, who went on to study nursing for a while before returning to the IHSS fold.

Taylor also has an accounting degree but would rather help people in need than do people's taxes for a living. She says that this work is "really a calling for me. People ask me, 'You have an accounting degree, why are you wiping behinds for $11.65 an hour?' Because I like it."

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