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Sonoma County Fair workers to get overtime pay again

  • The Sonoma County Fair in 2012. (Beth Schlanker / The Press Democrat, 2012)

Temporary workers at the Sonoma County Fair will once more be eligible for overtime pay next year under the fair's new proposed budget, but officials warn that the hours will be strictly limited to conserve money.

The county fair board delivered the proposed budget to supervisors Wednesday after voting unanimously last week to restore at least some overtime pay next year. Overtime had been eliminated in 2013 as a cost-saving measure, but the cut sparked outrage by labor groups and pointed criticism by several supervisors.

“We want to create a work environment for our employees that leads them to feel that they have our backing and our support, however that is expressed,” fair President Lisa Carreño said Wednesday. “If for the community we need to demonstrate that we believe in our staff by budgeting that overtime, that is what we will do.”

Supervisors had yet to see details of the budget, which is likely to come before them next week, but several expressed pleasure at the change.

Shirlee Zane, the most vocal critic of the no-overtime policy at a meeting in October, praised the fair board for its efforts at financial restraint. “I also give them credit for hearing what the board said on this social justice issue; I care about the workers,” she said.

Supervisor Susan Gorin, who was also outspoken in her disapproval of cutting overtime, said she was pleased by the change.

“It's important not to take advantage of the seasonal workers and not deny them overtime pay,” she said. “Working folks have worked too long to create overtime and all of the policies associated with that to just brush it aside because we don't have the money.”

The fair board eliminated the overtime pay for about 600 temporary workers for the 2013 fair, a move that saved about $29,000 for the cash-strapped organization. They were permitted to make the change under federal rules that exempt many short-term entertainment events from paying overtime; fair officials say at least 46 other fairs around the state do not pay such workers overtime.

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