In the midst of a widespread debate among southern California cities about granting a “hero wage” to grocery workers, Irvine City Council just approved, after a lengthy discussion on Tuesday evening, a mandatory hazard wage increase for these chain store workers.
Originally proposed by Mayor Farrah Khan, the new law requires all grocery and pharmacy employers in the city with over 20 workers in California and an additional 500 employees across the country to pay workers an additional $ 4 an hour for the next 120 days.
The law also contained provisions preventing employers from dismissing or punishing workers in order to offset costs.
In a 3-2 vote, Khan and council members Larry Agran and Tammy Kim voted in favor of the ordinance, pointing out that large grocery chains made huge profits during the pandemic, most of which were not passed on to workers.
“We have to get them to be good actors,” said Kim from the podium. “If we have to do this to get these big box listed retailers to do the right thing, we have to do what we have to do.”
One of the main concerns of the council members who voted against the raise was a possible lawsuit awaiting the city. Long Beach City Council approved a similar rule and was sued in federal court the following day by the California Grocers Association. The supermarket giant Kroger closed several shops in the city in protest. Khan said the raise is still in effect as the litigation progresses.
The cities of Santa Ana and Costa Mesa have both considered advancing similar laws, but talks have stalled. Irvine is the first Orange County city to approve such an ordinance.
“This appears to be something the legality of which is still under discussion,” said Councilman Mike Carroll. “I’m a little concerned that if I just put my job hat on, we have the phrase ‘set a date for a lawsuit.’ That is clearly that. “
Councilor Anthony Kuo, the other without a vote, asked District Attorney Jeff Melching if the city could be held responsible for paying the additional fee if a judicial review found the mandatory increase illegal. Melching said that if sued in a federal court, the city would not have guaranteed protection from it.
The vast majority of public commentators who called supported the obligation to pay heroes and urged the council to “be brave.”
“Since the pandemic started, we have been made important workers because we work on the front lines. We are working so that families can continue to buy groceries, water and other essentials, ”said Jose Ortiz, manager of Irvine Albertsons. “We helped the company triple their revenues. They can afford to accommodate us.”
The United Food and Commercial Workers union, one of the most prominent unions calling for a wage increase, also issued a statement shortly after approval, thanking the city.
“Companies like Kroger ended the risk payment in mid-May 2020 as profits soared and COVID-19 cases soared,” said Andrea Zinder, president of the union’s Orange County chapter. “This temporary wage increase shows workers that their elected officials stand behind them and are grateful for the work they are doing to feed our communities.”
One of the commentators who opposed the motion was Ashley Hoffman, a representative with the California Chamber of Commerce, who said the bulk of that revenue was going to the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE), COVID-19 testing, and other measures to combat Pandemic was used.
“While sales have fallen to pre-pandemic sales, business costs continue to rise. While these increases benefit these workers, it is inevitable that the costs will be passed on to consumers, ”said Hoffman.
John Park, chairman of the city’s finance commission, also spoke out against the new rule, saying it was a free market violation.
“Councilors shouldn’t put their thumbs on the scales to promote special interests, whether it’s trade unions or grocery stores,” said Park.
While the regulation was originally supposed to come into force immediately, the Council did not pass the measure by a majority, which means it will take at least another month for the law to officially enter into force. The Council will have the opportunity to revise the rule at its next meeting on February 23, before it comes into force.
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter @NBiesiada.