Higher pay, sick days, business ratings: Santa Clara County mulls big labor changes

A sweeping labor policy proposal winding through Santa Clara County’s political process could raise wages for public employees, require paid sick days for workers and implement a new labor-friendliness ranking for businesses based on benefits plans.

While major metro areas like San Francisco, Washington D.C. and Seattle have seen similar reform efforts play out individually in recent years, the initial effort in Silicon Valley to combine the set of policies appears to be unprecedented. It’s also likely to run into familiar warnings about job cuts and other negative economic impacts from business advocacy groups or employers whose bottom lines stand to be impacted by labor cost increases.

“We decided to be as inclusive as we could be with the report,” said Santa Clara County Supervisor Ken Yeager, who has championed the proposal now being studied by county staff along with fellow supervisor and labor-backed San Jose mayoral hopeful Dave Cortese. “The next two months are really for the county executive’s office to do the legwork and get a sense of how broad we want to be.”

The focal point of the new proposal is the county’s living wage, or the pay required for county staff and contractors (as opposed to the minimum wage required for all workers). The city of San Jose has a living wage law on the books that ties pay for city workers and contractors to area costs of living, which — in a market roughly 87 percent more expensive than the average U.S. city — pencils out to $17.81 per hour for employees with health benefits or $19.06 without.

“The idea is to create an economy where everyone is self-sufficient,” said Ben Field, executive officer of the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council. He added that the county’s position as a major employer could be a jumping off point for broader reforms, since it “sets the standard for employment practices.”

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