Costa Mesa Becomes Latest City to Explore Pay Raise for Grocery Workers

March 1, 2021 Updated: March 1, 2021

Costa Mesa is considering boosting the hourly wages of grocery workers during the pandemic, joining a shopping list of other Orange County cities exploring the initiative.

Its city council will discuss an urgency ordinance March 2 to pay certain grocery workers an extra $4 per hour in “hazard pay.”

“Grocery workers generally receive lower wages than other professions deemed essential during the pandemic such as doctors,” says a city report. “There is a need to incentivize experienced grocery workers to remain employed in order to provide continuity of services to the public during the disaster.”

Once in effect, the hazard pay would last for 120 days, unless extended by the council.

The ordinance is being brought forward at the request of Mayor Katrina Foley and Mayor Pro Tem Andrea Marr.

The city reported that grocery workers have been required to work throughout the pandemic, facing “new hazards due to the coronavirus pandemic in jobs not previously considered particularly dangerous.”

“Grocery workers are often in close contact with members of the public who may be COVID positive yet asymptomatic and are often in closer contact than six feet, thereby placing them at higher risk for contracting the disease,” the report states.

Many grocery companies throughout the state initially provided their employees with a temporary wage increase or a one-time bonus for essential workers.

However, since the impacts of the pandemic temporarily subsided last June, “there appears to be no additional effort from grocery store employers to reinstate the extra compensation.”

If the city council supports the ordinance on March 2, staff will work with the city attorney’s office to draft the urgency ordinance and bring it to the council for approval at a future meeting.

County-Wide Trend

Several cities in Orange County have since adopted, or considered implementing, pay hikes for grocery workers during the pandemic.

Irvine has led the way, being the first city in the county to adopt “hero pay,” which will go into effect on March 25 for non-managerial grocery store workers having shifts of at least two hours per week.

The citywide mandate applies to stores with 20 or more employees or more than 500 workers nationwide. It also applies to stores that are 85,000 square feet or more in size; stores less than 15,000 square feet would be exempt.

Two members of Irvine’s city council were opposed to the ordinance because there was confusion about which stores would be included and which would be exempt, and they wanted a continuance of the item until the city obtained a list of eligible retailers.

Buena Park city council moved forward with its hero pay proposal on Feb. 23 and will vote on its approval during its next meeting.

One of its councilmembers previously told The Epoch Times that she had concerns about the ordinance.

“Although I understand the equity argument behind the proposed ordinance in favor of grocery workers, I am concerned about its impact on mid-sized grocers in Buena Park,” Buena Park Mayor Pro Tem Sunny Youngsun Park said.

“I hope that the direction we take as a collective body does not drive grocers out of the city and we can ensure that Buena Park residents may have quality supermarkets within the city boundary.”

Eligible employees must work at least two hours per week at a business that employs more than 20 people locally and is part of a company or franchise with at least 500 employees nationally.

The store must be larger than 15,000 square feet, with at least 70 percent of its floor area devoted to food products, or generate at least 70 percent of its revenue from food sales.

Stores with more than 85,000 square feet that devote at least 10 percent of their sales floor area to food sales would also qualify, as would retail pharmacies that sell food.

In Santa Ana, the city council will decide on March 2 whether to implement hero pay for both grocery and retail pharmacy workers.

In Long Beach, the council faced backlash over its hero pay ordinance after Kroger announced on Feb. 1 that it would shutter two of its local stores in response to the rule.

“As a result of the city of Long Beach’s decision to pass an ordinance mandating extra pay for grocery workers, we have made the difficult decision to permanently close long-struggling store locations in Long Beach,” a company statement reads. “This misguided action by the Long Beach City Council oversteps the traditional bargaining process and applies to some, but not all, grocery workers in the city.”