County May Strengthen Living Wage Policy

Santa Clara County will consider bolstering its living wage policy to include not just higher pay, but adequate paid leave, benefits and hours.

A wage ordinance adopted in 2012 allows the county to selectively apply living wage rules. Supervisor Ken Yeager is asking his colleagues to support a revision that would make it standard for all county employees, contractors and anyone working for lessees of the county.

Unlike a minimum wage ordinance, like the one in San Jose that sets a base hourly pay of $10.10, living wage policies aren’t enacted by police or jurisdictional power. They’re a baseline that can make or break a deal with the county. A company wouldn’t secure a public contract unless its wages were up to par with county-set policy.

“Living wage ordinances utilize the public sector’s power as an employer, procurer, subsidy provider and lessor to improve economic equity and vitality by raising standards for jobs created or subsidized tax dollars,” Yeager writes in his memo up for review at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

San Jose established itself as an early leader in the living wage movement when it adopted a policy in 1998, giving it the highest wage rate in the nation at the time. The county established a weaker policy of its own 14 years later.

“The living wage ordinance discussed … would move from the above policy, which can be selectively applied, to create consistency in the definition and application of living wage in order to promote fairness and predictability for contractors seeking and choosing to do business with the county,” Yeager’s memo states.

Since the 1998 passage of a living wage ordinance in San Jose, the policy tool has evolved to address the complexity of how a person’s compensation affects economic security and the health of their family and community, Yeager notes.

Later policies have tried to cover not just wages but benefits, hours and job security. An ordinance passed in Oakland, for example, included sick leave. Yeager’s proposal borrows from similar policies adopted by various counties and cities throughout the state. It would also establish a voluntary living wage certification, which companies could apply for similar to a “green” certification.

More from the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors agenda for May 20, 2014:

  • The drought’s still a thing—record-breakingly dry—and the county urges the public to cut water consumption by 20 percent.
  • Supervisors will hear a report about the Sheriff’s Office extending help to the Valley Transportation Authority and the San Jose Police Department. Under tentative agreements, sheriff’s deputies would police VTA train stations and help SJPD with county-owned buildings in city limits.
  • “Genetic counseling” services for the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center will cost $100,000 through next year. The money goes to the Silicon Valley Genetics Center, a clinical unit that helps some of the region’s most vulnerable populations by helping cancer patients and pregnant women carrying a baby diagnosed with a genetic defect.
  • The county will expand psychiatry services at its homeless health clinic. A survey of 995 homeless patients of the clinic found that 35 percent suffer from depression, 17 percent from post-traumatic stress disorder and 16 percent with some other form of mental illness.
  • The Los Altos School District is in a similar bind and needs the county to secure $7 million in loans to help it get through the next budget cycle.

WHAT: Board of Supervisors meets
WHEN: 9am Tuesday
WHERE: County Government Center, 70 W. Hedding St., San Jose
INFO: Clerk of the Board, 408.299.5001

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. Not surprised that Yeager would be in favor of making sure his constituents get as little bang for their buck as possible. He demonstrates once again that he has zero understanding or appreciation of the free market.
    The guy is supposedly in favor of bike paths. Unfortunately, they’re too expensive to build for our supposedly cash strapped County. So what does he do? Makes sure they become yet more expensive to build. A clueless utopian is what I’ve got as my representative.
    Let’s watch closely to see how his colleague, mayoral candidate Dave Cortese comes down on this. Then we’ll have a better idea whether he thinks the mayor’s job is to represent the people of the city or the employees of the city.

    • The Merc reports that Dave Cortese co-wrote the proposal.
      Evidently he sees government as nothing but a giant taxpayer funded entitlement program. Starry eyed public safety voters might want to do a little deductive reasoning before allowing themselves to be seduced by this guy’s promises.

  2. It would be nice if those so opposed to the government imposing a minimum wage were just as concerned with it imposing a minimum cost of living…

    • > It would be nice if those so opposed to the government imposing a minimum wage were just as concerned with it imposing a minimum cost of living…

      The “minimum wage” is just a number. The bigger the number, the bigger the heart of the moral exhibitionist wishing for a minimum wage.

      Which raises the question: why are the hearts of the moral exhibitionists so small? After all, they’re only wishing for a minimum wage of $10.40.

      I want a minimum wage of $1,642.37 per hour.

      My heart is MUCH, MUCH bigger.


  3. Idiots abound! I cannot understand how anyone can fail to see the reality of a government mandatory minimum wage increase: Higher service/product prices and/or less available jobs. Raising the minimum does nothing but increase coast of living and decrease job opportunities. Employers…mainly small business…have to increase their production costs to cover the wage increase so they either raise their prices, which effectively negates the minimum wage increase buying power, or they higher less people to keep salary costs down…basic economics…We tax businesses to death, impose ridiculous rules/regulation upon them and then wonder why there are no jobs or low salaries…Businesses exist to make money for their owners/shareholders. They do not exist to supply jobs or salaries for people. Those are benefits of a thriving business economy. Our screwball society insists that businesses must focus on supporting people and not business…thus we have a weak, and shrinking, economy…with high costs, high unemployment and decreased wages…Idiots abound…and unfortunately they get elected to public office where they can wreak havoc and economic destruction…

    • You’re right Tony. Idiots DO abound. And they have a habit of making idiotic, vapid posts, and then disappearing into the ether never to reappear to defend their idiocy. (Yes, I’m talking about YOU, Eric.)
      And unfortunately, the voting idiots now outnumber the voting non-idiots.
      Does it never occur to these idiots that if employers are all making so damned much money then that must logically mean that there’s opportunity for THEM to start their own business and become rich too? And while these idiots who fancy themselves geniuses are getting filthy rich running their own business then THEY can be the ones saving the planet and paying all their employees, even the unskilled ones, enough to buy a new house and a new Tesla.

      • Sorry, the nuance probably went way over your head, but if you need it to be spelled out for you… You would *think* that those against setting a minimum wage would also be against imposing minimum costs of living, there are plenty of examples, lets just look at one, the government imposing a minimum amount of square footage for new housing units. What do the “free market” types have to say about removing these types of arbitrary restrictions? Either dead silence, or more recently “stack and pack” “United Nations” nonsense.

        • Wow…are you serious!?!?! Clearly you have no common sense at all. What your silly example of minimum square footage for housing has to with setting a minimum wage is ridiculous. Government already has standards regarding minimum square footage per person per house which is why there are laws against having large numbers of people living in small houses or apartments…The reason those rules exist is primarily for sanitation purposes…the only way minimum wage/minimum cost of living laws can work is if they do not impact the basic economic structure of a society. That would mean businesses would have to simply absorb the costs and not pass them onto the consumers and not reduce the number of employees to compensate. Anyone with any business intelligence knows that that would simply kill off businesses as their cost of doing business became greater than their income/profit. I will explain that simply so you can understand it…more money being paid out, with less money coming in, means running out of money…Fact is life is not fair or equal…get over it. People need to stop depending on nanny government to take of them and get out and make the most of the opportunities they have…and, since we cannot all be born Kennedys or Rockefellers, this usually means hard work and thrifty spending…and sometimes working two jobs…having gone from living on welfare to being self supporting and making an average income…I know the free market system works…I also know that socialism does not…it has not produced it’s supposed utopia anywhere it has been tried.

          • Thanks, nothing I could have said would have done a better job of proving my point.

        • No need to concern yourself, Eric, that your thoughts will go over anybody’s head.
          So you regard local governments’ powers of imposing building regulations, zoning rules, and other land use decisions as “arbitrary restrictions”? Most of us accept them as tools that are needed to help develop and preserve order and the quality of life in our communities. We willingly concede that these rules may restrict us in the use and potential exploitation of our land and do not expect any sort of monetary compensation in return. But we accept the tradeoff. Our payoff, as long as our local government remains genuinely focused on it’s job of representing the interests of it’s citizens, is in the enjoyment of being part of a prosperous, beautiful, responsible, clean, tidy, law abiding community.
          I reject the notion that the government needs to apologize for, or finagle some sort of restitution for simply doing the job that it’s created to do.

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