Wages and Solidarity | Lost Coast Outpost | Humboldt County

Liza Welsh asks Natalie Arroyo, Kim Bergel, Mike Newman

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Wages and Solidarity

1. Natalie Arroyo and Kim Bergel, why did you vote to deny a pay increase to the essential workers in Eureka grocery stores after their sacrifices during the pandemic? 2. All, what is your stance on raising the minimum wage in Humboldt County for all workers? If you would like to see it raised, what is your target number? 3. All, how can we ensure that local working class people are able to both stay in Humboldt & to thrive here, especially given the housing crisis and conditions of inflation that are squeezing so many? Please detail specific policies or programs that you would pursue.

— Liza Welsh


Natalie Arroyo

Hi Liza, 

In answer to your first question, the entire City Council was hesitant to bring this matter to a vote for the same reasons - we believed that the most significant hazard had passed at that time, we fully supported the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, and we wanted to protect the City from needless lawsuits. Looking back, I wish that I had done some things differently - this topic deserved time on the agenda and to come to a vote. 

I have been a longtime supporter of wage increases in the community, dating to my first foray into politics in 2014, when I supported an increase to the minimum wage. I don’t have a target number now, but I am willing to hear ideas and discuss it more. I don’t know whether it is more sensible to improve wages for people in specific jobs that are “out of sync” with national or regional pay scales and have long foregone increases, or whether it is better to raise wages across the board. There is a fairness principle at work in both approaches that deserves more discussion. I know that in the private sector, including in the non-profit realm, wage compaction is a real issue, and it deserves to be talked about. I am now a union member as a public university lecturer, and I appreciate the efforts my union undertakes to represent wage needs for me and my colleagues. This is a complex topic, and I’d be happy to talk more about it - feel free to reach out at arroyoforsupervisor (at) gmail. 

Lastly, we need to explore multiple mechanisms to increase housing stock in our region, from supporting the development of ADUS and tiny homes (efforts both the County and City have undertaken), updating zoning and land use documents where needed, incentivizing housing development through public-private partnerships, and having political courage to support housing development. I’m grateful to be a part of this, and want to see housing development continue. 

There is a lot more to say about your third question, as it touches on every aspect of life for most people in our community. We struggle to get goods at a reasonable cost here, we struggle to retain a workforce that in turn keeps us healthy, and we need to find opportunities to be as resilient and interdependent as possible. That’s tough in a community where people vacillate between community-mindedness and extreme independence. I believe that building a shared future together will require a lot of community engagement around what our vision is. That has been eroded during the pandemic and during a polarizing time, but I’m willing to give it my best. 

Thanks for the questions!

Sincerely, Natalie 

Kim Bergel

Thanks for the question Liza. This was more about a bonus than a long term pay increase. I did bring this forward for discussion with the Council and found that there was a lack of interest to move forward. For the record, I too am an essential worker who did not receive a one time  bonus for putting myself at risk during the pandemic. After many discussions with union leaders, I felt that this idea would have been better suited and may have gained more traction at Council if it had been heard earlier in the pandemic. The many lawsuits which were being filed by the California Grocers Association against other jurisdictions passing similar ordinances solidified this item as an overreach for Council. I do support unions and have been out in the trenches with them campaigning and advocating for Measure H and I (roads and maintenance),  Measure R ( raising the minimum wage), and Measure P (creating the ward system so that more folks had the opportunity to run).  While I cannot promise to make everyone happy with every decision I make, I do promise to make the best decisions I can with the whole community’s interest in mind and at heart.  

Also, while there was no question that the grocery workers deserved the increased pay, I questioned whether it really addressed the problem of worker safety.  I wanted to focus on vaccines, testing, and safety education for all so that we could pull out of the pandemic and render these issues moot.  

I support a $15.00 per hour minimum wage nationally.  In fact, I think that is a compromise.  It ought to be higher, because in some areas of the country it is inadequate and even $15.00 does not catch up with inflation since the federal minimum wage was first implemented or even since the last minimum wage increase.  As for a local minimum wage increase, I am open to such a discussion, but I am leery about it.  We are not a large jurisdiction like San Francisco or Seattle and are more susceptible to the loss of jobs should businesses choose to move out due to such an increase.  However, I never rule out anything without trying to fully understand the arguments for and against.  Please come to me and talk about it.