Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Thursday, Jan. 4 @ 4:32 p.m. / Local Government

Del Norte Officials Call For Reviewing Salary Structure As State Minimum Wage Increases


Del Norte County staff report

SEIU 1021 Side Letter Agreement

Del Norte County Bi-Weekly Salary Schedule


A week after supervisors ensured staff pay would be above California’s new minimum wage, Del Norte’s administrative officer says a complete review of the county’s salary structure will be necessary to “figure out what to do going forward.”

The Board of Supervisors’ approval of a side letter agreement with the Del Norte Employees Association SEIU Local 1021 on Dec. 29 affects seven positions including Cook II, Custodian II, Intake Worker I, Legal Process Clerk I, Medical Records Clerk I, Office Assistant III and Vocational Assistant I.

The starting salary for those positions was 31 cents below the state’s $16-an-hour minimum wage, which took effect on Jan. 1, County Administrative Officer Neal Lopez told the Wild Rivers Outpost on Thursday. The last adjustment the county made was when hourly minimum wage increased to $15.50, he said.

“We’re trying to keep our actual jobs that require 40 hours a week above minimum wage, but it’s changing so rapidly it’s been an ongoing battle,” Lopez said. “We’re really at a point where we need to do a complete structural review and figure out what to do going forward.”

The county is also bracing for a state initiative slated to go on the Nov. 5, 2024 ballot that would boost the minimum wage to $18 an hour, Lopez said. He pointed out that the California Living Wage Act would be a 12.5 percent increase over the current $16 minimum wage that would create a domino effect impacting the county’s overall salary structure.

“If we move someone from $16 to $18, now a supervisor who makes $18 will need to make $20,” Lopez said. “It’s a domino effect that goes from the bottom up. That’s what a lot of people don’t understand.”

Under the side letter agreement between Del Norte County and SEIU Local 1021, the seven positions listed above would have a starting bi-weekly salary of $1,312.04 instead of the previous $1,254.90. If it’s difficult to hire qualified personnel or if someone is unusually qualified, the side letter allows the county to appoint at a higher salary step, though the Board of Supervisors must approve that appointment.

Last week, Del Norte Employees Association President Norma Williams said the side letter agreement is a Band-aid and salaries would be addressed in contract negotiations between the union and county going into next year. The move to $16 an hour was a “surprise on both sides,” Williams said.

Williams referred to a bill California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law last year that boosts fast food workers’ minimum wage to $20 beginning in April. But getting back to Del Norte staff, Williams said there are cooks in jails in comparable counties whose minimum wage is $18 an hour.

“I can already hear what your county teams are going to say next year, but you know something, minimum wage can no longer be the floor,” she said. “You have a vacancy rate of 29 percent across the board. In your largest department, that’s at 35 percent, and that’s a funded department, by the way. I have vacancy rate numbers because the union demanded them. We asked for them because we’ve been seeing the trajectory in terms of our bargaining unit numbers.”

Del Norte County’s staff vacancy rate overall has been near 30 percent for awhile, Lopez said. Human Resources advertises open positions through a variety of avenues including the California State Association of Counties, Rural County Representatives of California and

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Lopez said, the county would get about 20 applicants for entry level jobs. Now it’s lucky to get five.
With a potential $18-an-hour minimum wage on the November ballot, Lopez said the county may have to hire a consultant to brace for that “massive change.”

“Typically we do this in-house and the plan is to hopefully again do it in-house,” he said. “But if we’re getting a month into this and we’re thinking it’s much bigger and we don’t have the capacity to do it, we may have to get a consultant. We don’t know how it will work until we dive into it.”

On Dec. 29, supervisors Dean Wilson and Valerie Starkey commented on the side letter agreement, though it was on the consent agenda.

Wilson, who represents District 5, predicted difficult times in store for Del Norte County that’s going to require him and his colleagues to decide where their priorities should be. He mentioned fast food workers and county employees in the same breath, but said the two aren’t comparable because $16 an hour doesn’t reflect the entire cost to the county.

“The $22-an-hour worker at McDonalds does not make retirement, he does not have the health benefits, he does not have the coverage that is required,” Wilson said. “When you look at a $16-an-hour worker, you have to add 35 percent to that cost because that’s what we have to do. When you put a deputy in a car, that’s a 70 percent cost in addition to that base salary. They’re making more than $20 an hour in many cases, but those benefits are not reflected in that hourly wage.”

Starkey acknowledged Williams’ comment that the side letter of agreement with SEIU 1021 is a Band-aid. She said she and her colleagues should dive deep into how salaries are structured in Del Norte County.

“The floor should not be minimum wage for county employees. That should absolutely not be the case,” she said. “Although I’m going to approve the Band-aid today, I want this to be top on our list moving forward; that we look at all of this because it’s unacceptable.”


© 2024 Lost Coast Communications Contact: