Thousands of Santa Clara County employees will receive a COVID-19 hazard pay bonus before the end of the year. Not everyone plans to keep the money.
Assessor Larry Stone informed County Executive Jeff Smith earlier this month that he will donate his $2,500 bonus to charitable nonprofits, including affordable housing agencies and local art organizations.
Earlier this month, the Board of Supervisors agreed to use American Rescue Plan funds to pay more than $76 million in hazard pay bonuses to the county’s 22,000 employees. Each worker will receive a one-time $2,500 payment by Dec. 3, pending negotiations with unions. Smith and the supervisors also decided to not award themselves the bonus.
Bonuses are a hot-button issue in local politics. San Jose Councilmember Matt Mahan criticized the Board of Supervisors for using federal relief dollars to give county employees hazard pay. He also noted that 4,500 employees make more than $200,000 per year in salary and benefits. In response to Mahan’s critique, labor unions held a news conference demanding he apologize.
Thousands of county employees were forced to work on the frontlines during the pandemic, including health care workers, firefighters and law enforcement officials. Workers in the assessor’s office fought and won a battle to continue working from home during the height of the pandemic, but they returned to the office in July, following the release of a plan to vaccinate all county employees. Some county workers claim they returned too early, citing positive cases recorded in different departments and the surge in Delta variant cases in the county.
Stone, who is up for reelection, told San José Spotlight he supports county workers receiving bonuses for the hard work they did during the pandemic. But he believes the nonprofit community could use his bonus more.
“I’m well compensated,” said Stone, whose minimum annual salary is more than $265,000. “It’s an individual choice. I’m not suggesting that other elected officials, county employees or department heads should do this.”
San José Spotlight reached out to several department heads and directors with the highest minimum annual salaries to ask what they intend to do with the $2,500 hazard pay bonus. Annual salaries are based on a minimum salary range per job, as provided by the county.
Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen, who has a minimum annual salary of $384,635, told his executive staff he plans to donate his hazard pay to nonprofit organizations, according to department spokesperson Sean Webby.
Rosen, who is up for reelection, will pay $500 each to the American Red Cross, Community Solutions, YWCA Golden Gate/Silicon Valley, Asian Americans for Community Involvement and Second Harvest of Silicon Valley.
Miguel Marquez, chief operating officer, has a minimum annual salary of $316,775. Marquez told San José Spotlight he won’t comment on his bonus and supports other public employees who choose to do the same.
He noted about two-thirds of the county’s employees worked on the frontline during the COVID-19 pandemic before a vaccine was available, and thousands were classified as disaster service workers.
“We had to collect property taxes, run an election—do all the things that a society requires, but with a lot less people, and they all stepped up as well,” Marquez said.
Dr. Tiffany Ho, behavioral health medical director, plans to donate her $2,500 bonus to the Harker School and Morgan Autism Center.
“They have been on the front line of the pandemic educating our children, and I want to acknowledge the mission of the schools, the teachers and staff,” she said.
Several other county directors and department heads with top salaries did not immediately respond to questions about their hazard pay bonuses:
- James Williams, county counsel, has an annual minimum salary of $353,895.
- Sara Cody, public health officer, has an annual minimum salary of $309,669.
- Ken Miller, emergency medical services medical director, has an annual minimum salary of $309,669.
- Michelle Jorden, chief medical examiner, has an annual minimum salary of $309,546.
- Paul Lorenz, chief executive officer of Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, has an annual minimum salary of $307,445.
Marquez said the $2,500 doesn’t make up for the toll the pandemic took on county employees, but giving a bonus to county workers helps them feel appreciated.
“It’s almost not about the money, but the message it sends,” Marquez said.