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Raising ToT could raise caregiver wages

A group of people wearing purple T-shirts that say 'SEIU 2015,' and holding signs calling for $20 an hour for caregivers.
SEIU caregivers at the February 27 Board of Supervisors meeting, where the board agreed to raise their wages to $20 an hour by the end of their contract.

The Board of Supervisors wants to raise the transient occupancy tax on short term rentals by 2% to bring caregivers’ wages up to $20 an hour. They also agreed to research how to pay all county workers a livable wage, which, according to the MIT living wage calculator, is $23 an hour for a single adult living in Mendocino County.

On February 27, the Board agreed to bring caregivers up to $20 an hour by the end of their contract. Siva Giveli, a 70-year-old caregiver, told the board on March 12 that with expenses rising, that’s not soon enough. “So they need their money now, not later,” she concluded.

Luisa Acosta noted that there’s a reason caregivers continue to work well past the standard retirement age, invoking the recent death of Beverly Galton, who continued to work and advocate into her 80’s. “We cannot wait three years to catch up to what we are asking right now,” she said, echoing a theme among the caregivers who addressed the board during public comment. “Next month, fast food workers are going to be earning $20 an hour. We will have a shortage in caregivers. I hope that matters to you as much as it matters to them.” Returning to the topic of elderly caregivers, she noted that, “Siva just mentioned her age…Where is justice? Are they ever going to get to rest? Are they ever going to get to retire?”

Two other items about employee compensation were pulled from the agenda: discussion and possible approval of an agreement to raise CEO Darcie Antle’s total annual compensation including benefits from $382,000 to $425,000, effective June of next year; and the adoption of a resolution giving raises to other non-supervisor elected officials, effective in July.

Supervisor Ted Williams introduced the caregivers item. “Moving them to $20 is probably something we can afford,” he opined. “If the board were to show some leadership and set a date, staff would build it into a future budget. There's a trade-off. We're going to give something up. Maybe it’s raises elsewhere…But it would align with my values, and I think with your values, to say we pay as well as McDonald’s…We also have an aging community. The median age in this county is increasing every year. We have more and more people who will need care. They want to stay in their homes and frankly, there aren't assisted living facilities and a lot of people can't afford those anyway.”

Caregivers are making $17 an hour. IHSS is a state program, with the county paying 17.5% of the cost. Supervisor Dan Gjerde asked if the number of authorized caregiving hours could be cut in order to raise the hourly rate. Steven White, of the Advisory Council of Lake and Mendocino Counties Area Agency on Aging, said he didn’t think that would be the right fix, “since our cost is static at $6,554,806,” he explained. “Now that does go up four percent, year over year, which is approximately $262,000. And so if we raise wages, that's where we would have an additional cost.” At one dollar an hour more, for over 1,800 caregivers, he estimated the county’s additional cost would be $385,000.

White confirmed Gjerde’s statement that, “Even if the county reduced the total number of hours assigned, it would not reduce the cost of the program to the county because we already have a fixed contribution rate, regardless of the number of hours of service.”

Cesar Alvarado, the representative for SEIU 2015, the In Home Support Services union, told the board the union is working on a bill that would make the state fully responsible for the program. The union would then negotiate with the state, rather than the county. If it gets through all the committees in a timely manner, he expects it to come to fruition in 2027. “From that perspective, this is probably going to be your last contract,” he predicted, adding that he believes the proposed bill has the governor’s support. “I think we are very close to $20 an hour,” he declared.

Deputy CEO Cherie Johnson confirmed that some of the county’s own employees qualify for social services. One hundred ninety six county employees other than caregivers make under $23 an hour. To bring up the wages of its lowest paid workers, Gjerde suggested that the county could start reducing the layers of mid-level management in county government and eliminate the steps that are below $23 an hour. He also questioned the received wisdom of impaction, or making sure managers make 15% more than the highest-paid people beneath them, declaring that it is not an industry standard. “We invented that here at local government,” he added.

Supervisor John Haschak suggested a November ballot measure to increase the ToT by 2%, and dedicate the funds to increasing the pay for IHSS workers to $20 an hour. He added that the measure could include a stipulation that the tax will end if and when the state comes through. “That tax increase is really geared towards people who are not living in Mendocino County,” he argued; “who are pretty much the wealthiest people who can afford short-term rentals in Mendocino County. So it wouldn't affect the citizenry, but we could dedicate it to increasing these salaries. So that's what I'd like to put forth. And if it went on the November ballot, we could work with SEIU 2015 to pass it. I think everyone wants to work together.”

The board voted unanimously to direct staff to bring back more information, and decided to form an ad hoc committee consisting of Haschak and Williams to work on the ToT measure and how to raise the lowest wages of county workers, incorporating the ideas brought up by Gjerde.

Local News
Sarah Reith came to Mendocino County in 2008 and worked as a reporter and freelancer, joining KZYX as a community news reporter in 2017. She became the KZYX News Director in March, 2023.