Irvine City Council is in favor of approving hazard payment for grocery store workers

Irvine City Council on Tuesday focused on temporarily increasing food workers’ salaries by $ 4 an hour, following in the footsteps of progressive California cities advocating what is known as Hero Pay.

The regulation introduced by the newly elected mayor Farrah Kahn would apply to large supermarkets and drug stores. Council members agreed on Tuesday to change affected businesses.

According to Kristina Perrigoue, a spokeswoman for the council, qualified stores must have at least 20 employees and their parent company must employ at least 500 people nationally. Stores less than 15,000 square feet are exempt.

The regulation would raise wages for at least 120 days and prevent companies from lowering the basic wage rate, overtime and vacation pension contributions to pay for the temporary increase.

According to Derek Smith, United Food & Commercial Workers Political Director, Local 324, the hazard payment would raise the wages of at least 1,600 workers in Irvine.

The elevations have become a hot topic in advanced cities in California and beyond. Supporters say food workers put their health at risk to serve customers as COVID-19 spread. There have been numerous outbreaks in supermarkets and other retailers across the country, with workers falling ill and in some cases spreading the coronavirus to family members.

At Irvine, more than 90 key employees have tested positive for COVID-19, Smith said. At least one worker has died.

In a memo, Kahn noted that at the beginning of the pandemic, companies gave their key workers “hero wages” but refused to give it in the summer despite the fact that businesses were generating record profits.

“It even happened as the pandemic continued to disproportionately affect low-wage workers, leaving some grocery workers as the main breadwinners in their households,” Kahn wrote.

Seattle and Santa Monica have pushed their risk payment. The Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved a similar proposal last week. And the LA County Board of Supervisors is expected to vote on a similar plan soon.

Long Beach previously approved a similar move and drew the ire of Kroger, the owner of several supermarket chains. The company abruptly announced the closure of two stores, which affected 200 employees.

Long Beach faces a legal challenge from the California Grocers Assn. about his mandate.

Ron Fong, chairman of the association, said mandates in Long Beach and the one proposed in Irvine were “too great a cost increase for a grocer to accept without consequence”.

Stores would “either pass the cost on to customers, cut staff or store hours, or close,” Fong said, adding the association would sue Irvine if the city council passes the ordinance.

Kahn and council members Larry Agran and Tammy Kim voted to move the measure forward. Councilors Anthony Kuo and Mike Carroll voted against.

The potential impact on consumers and the likely legal challenges were reasons Carroll voted against introducing the regulation.

He said the problem is safety from the deadly virus. A temporary increase in pay would not change that.

“We don’t have as many payroll issues as we do with vaccines,” Carroll said. “Extra wages don’t really affect the safety of these important and valuable people in our economy.”

Governor Gavin Newsom switched the California vaccine rollout to an age-based approach to eligibility last month. Proponents warned the change would adversely affect Black and Latin American Californians – many of whom are important workers.

For unions, this risk payment is long overdue. And legal threats from the food association are an attempt to “get cities not to enact regulations,” Smith said.

“Food workers have been on the front lines for a long time … and they haven’t signed up as heroes. But they did an exceptional job at a difficult time, ”he said. “I don’t understand why the food industry doesn’t value its own people.”

The measure will be available for a second reading in two weeks. At that point it could be formally adopted and come into force 30 days later.

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