Irvine leaders are considering charging $ 4 an hour as hero money for grocery workers – Orange County Register

Workers in major drug and grocery stores in Irvine could raise their wages by $ 4 an hour for about four months if the city discusses new rules.

The increase is expected to take effect in March when it is finally approved.

At the request of Mayor Farrah Khan, Irvine City Council voted Tuesday, February 9, to require grocery and drug stores that meet certain space or number of employees (including large stores larger than 85,000 square feet and chains with at least 500 employees across the country) to pay workers a premium known as Hazard Pay or “Hero Pay” during the coronavirus pandemic.

In Southern California, Long Beach, Los Angeles, and Montebello all have approved grocery workers wages, but Irvine is the only Orange County town to have done so. Santa Ana City Council decided last week to consider a similar requirement in March.

Long Beach and Montebello are being sued by the California Grocers Association over their rules. Two Irvine council members said they were concerned – and the Kroger Co. announced they will be closing two Long Beach stores, in part due to the new wage obligation.

Khan drafted Irvine’s rule to exempt smaller mom and pop stores from tax, and she noted that some of the larger chains have received state aid while also reporting record profits during the pandemic. The rule would not affect businesses like Trader Joe’s, which already pay workers a $ 4 premium.

Khan said Thursday that many grocery stores offered hazard payment at the start of the pandemic, but some stopped as the months went on, although workers continued to take the risk of cleaning, warehousing and serving shoppers. Her goal was “that they get the pay they deserve when they work on the front lines,” she said.

The council heard from a number of retail workers who “shared stories about other workers who contracted the virus and one of them died,” Khan said.

The Irvine Council must take a second procedural vote on the compensation rules at its next meeting. If this is the case, the higher compensation will take effect 30 days later.

However, the decision was not unanimous. The opposition to the council’s 3-2 vote came from councilors Mike Carroll and Anthony Kuo, both of whom raised concerns about a possible lawsuit and free market interference.

Kuo said Thursday that the city is not charging pay for other pandemic-stricken professions such as healthcare and asked, “Why are we putting our fingers on the scales for an industry?”

He pointed out that even before the wage measure was discussed, there had been news of the closure of two Albertson stores and one Walmart that were classified as “below average”. Kuo said he was also concerned that if Irvine were sued and lost, they could be held liable for damages – such as the cost of that extra payment.

“It’s like getting caught in a fire. They don’t necessarily help erase it or address it, ”he said.

Khan said she understands that there are potential legal pitfalls, but advocacy from people who work in the community will show the food association that it is an issue that city guides care about.

“It’s not fair to sue a city for doing the right thing,” she said.

The next session of Irvine City Council will be on Tuesday, February 23rd.

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