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Democrats seek return of OT pay to temporary fair workers

The Wave Swinger ride at the Sonoma County Fair Thursday, July 25, 2013 in Santa Rosa. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat)

The Wave Swinger ride at the Sonoma County Fair Thursday, July 25, 2013 in Santa Rosa. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat)


The Sonoma County Democratic Party is demanding that county fair officials reverse a decision denying overtime pay to about 600 temporary workers at the annual event.

In a letter to the board of supervisors Monday, party Chairman Stephen Gale sharply criticized the decision, saying the policy will save about $20,000 at the same time the fair is spending more than twice that for catered lunches for VIPs, a longstanding tradition at the fair.

“There is no such thing as a free lunch,” he wrote. “In this case, the lowest paid temporary workers are subsidizing a free lunch the county provides to some of the most affluent members of our community.”

The meals in what is known as the Directors Room are a fair board tradition going back many decades. Meals for invited guests are served in a shaded patio behind the fair administration building. Alcoholic beverages are included.

The affected workers serve as ticket takers, ushers, janitors, and parking lot attendants at the 16-day fair. They supplement the 27 full-time staff; about 450 of the 600 work only during the fair and the rest work at other temporary jobs with the county.

The policy is legal, since federal law exempts certain types of “amusement establishments” from rules requiring overtime pay, but this is the first year the fair has invoked the exemption.

Fair Manager Tawny Tesconi did not return a phone call requesting comment on the letter.

At their regular meeting Tuesday, the supervisors seemed inclined to at least discuss intervening.

“I for one would be happy to pay 10 or 15 dollars for lunch when I go over there and get those employees paid,” Supervisor Shirlee Zane said.

Zane said after the meeting that she remains supportive of the fair board and staff, but she said the Democratic Party raised “a fair question to ask.”

Supervisor Susan Gorin said the letter had provoked an “important conversation.”

The board cannot take any action before the fair wraps up on Aug. 11 because its next meeting is not until Aug. 13. The supervisors could not take any action at Tuesday’s meeting because the matter was not on the previously advertised agenda. Members did, however, ask staff to look into the question and bring it back as an official agenda item at some point.

Supervisor Mike McGuire said the board should ask Tesconi and other fair leaders to explain the policy at a meeting.

The supervisors do not directly control the management of the fair, but they do appoint members of the county fair board and approve the fair’s annual budget.

Chairman David Rabbitt seemed less troubled by the overtime issue than Zane and Gorin, pointing out that the workers volunteer to work the extra hours and were told upfront about the change in policy.

He also defended the VIP luncheon, saying it was designed to attract sponsors and people who would spend even more money at the fair. Rabbitt said he had attended the luncheons himself and expected to spend about $1,200 personally on fair tickets, raffles, merchandise and events.

He said he and Gale are friends, “but on this one, we may have to agree to disagree.”

Gale said the Democratic Central Committee decided to step into the issue because it appeared that nobody else had taken up the workers’ cause.

“It’s fundamental to the values of the Democratic Party that workers should be protected from exploitation,” he said, “including being forced to work excessive hours or excessive consecutive days without premium compensation.”

In the letter, Gale asked the supervisors to direct the fair board to reverse the policy and offer workers retroactive pay for any extra hours worked during this year’s fair.

Rabbitt said it’s not clear how quickly the board can discuss the matter, but he said is likely to be soon, if not at the Aug. 13 meeting.

You can reach Staff Writer Sean Scully at 521-5313 or sean.scully@pressdemocrat.com.

6 Responses to “Democrats seek return of OT pay to temporary fair workers”

  1. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    The Sonoma County Fair year long employees are county employees who do get overtime by civil service rules. The temp workers are hired to work the events throughout the year but most are hired to work the fair. The carnival people and booth people pay their own employees, the fair does not.

    Tawny is really stretching the idea that the County Fairs are “amusement parks”. Since the fair is a county AND STATE enterprise and the full time workers are county workers I can’t see this “amusement” park idea at all. Amusement parks are OWNED PRIVATELY and are for profit businesses.

    Late in the 1980′s the Sonoma County fair got nailed and had to BACK PAY temp workers for their overtime because of the law. It was a very nice windfall for them. Someone should look this up because I think Tawny is wrong and she was just a little pipsqueak of a girl back then.

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  2. R.B. Fish says:

    Pathetic. No overtime pay. Be thankful you have a temporary job!

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  3. Larry Watkins says:

    If Gale truly believed in socialism, he and his democrat sycophants should dig deep into their unlimited pockets and pay the OT themselves to show solidarity with the fair workers who he believes are being unfairly treated.

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  4. Grapevines says:

    Lets see, Gorin, McGuire and Zane? Saying hypocrisy would be redundant wouldn’t it??

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  5. Bruce Keating says:

    Susan Gorin and Mike McGuire were at the free lunch today along with several members of the Sonoma County Democratic Party. Shirlee Zane was there twice last week. Can you say hypocrisy?

    Thumb up 23 Thumb down 4

  6. bear says:

    LOL the BOS do not directly control the actions of their appointees?


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