Where I Stand: What’s under the Christmas tree for county employees?

Editor’s Note: Ava Hagwood spoke this morning during the public comment portion of the Plumas County Board of Supervisors Dec. 20 meeting — just as she has for each of the meetings during the past three months. Ava has been a consistent advocate for her coworkers and all county employees as they seek better compensation. With her permission, Plumas News is reprinting the text of those remarks — particularly struck by comments regarding seeking outside help for the county budget, and the poignant conclusion regarding the challenges faced by county employees this Christmas.

Good morning Board of Supervisors

I am Ava Hagwood, and I work for Social Services as a child welfare social worker. As a social worker, I am an advocate for clients, and I identify areas of improvement, which leads me to connect individuals with support to address their areas of need. Because of my job —because of my area of specialty — I have come to speak with you at each general meeting for the past three months. It is my job to advocate for my clients. However, it is my specialty to advocate when I see any injustice – including when I see my colleagues working non-entry level jobs, jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree for $15.11 per hour. I am advocating on behalf of the employees who risked their lives working frontline jobs through the pandemic but still showed up after losing loved ones and showed up to work during the Dixie fire after losing their homes. Yet, despite all their efforts, they received little to no recognition for their dedication – instead, they were told they would receive no pay increase. I am advocating for the staff who deserve to be paid the average wage for their field. What we are asking for is not exorbitant; it is employees who have faced extraordinary circumstances asking for average pay.

The other aspect of my job is identifying areas of improvement and encouraging individuals to seek out support. Last week I spoke to you about the concerns employees and community members have about how little is known about our current budget. Since it appears that minimal progress has been made over the past four months to better understand the budget, I would hope you are considering seeking outside support. I often tell the parents I work with that part of parenting is recognizing when you are in over your head and do not have the means to meet your children’s needs. I am here today to tell you that same message – part of being a leader is recognizing when a task cannot be completed independently, and getting outside support is what is in the best interest of everyone involved.

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I would like to finish by informing you all that minimum wage is increasing by 3% in 12 days. My co-workers who make $15.11 working the non-entry level position as eligibility specialists will receive part of that pay increase. However, those employees are currently paid 17% less than their average counterparts on the list of 10 comparison counties (or 21% less than the 8 comparison counties that were used to determine department head pay increases). The minute increase will only perpetuate employees to seek better-paying positions elsewhere. When you are discussing the budget and pay increases, please think of the future of this county, and the reality employees face because as each day passes, prices and inflation increase, and employees face more and more financial hardship. As you sit around your Christmas tree or holiday fest in the coming few days, please be grateful that you could afford gifts for your family and could afford food for your feast because many county-employed individuals are not able to afford the gifts or the food they would have hoped to give their family this year.

Thank you for your time.