Hero Pay for Grocery Workers, Pharmacy Workers Takes Effect in Santa Ana

March 3, 2021 Updated: March 3, 2021

Grocery workers and retail pharmacy workers in Santa Ana, Calif., will begin receiving an hourly pay boost after city council passed an urgency ordinance to implement “hero pay”.

The measure, which passed with a 5-2 vote during a March 2 council meeting, takes effect immediately. Eligible workers will receive an extra $4 per hour.

Under the new law, stores with grocery sections 10,000 square feet or larger—such as those found in Target or Walmart—will be included.

Councilmember Jonathan Ryan Hernandez voted in favor of the amended ordinance.

“I think that hazard pay really sends a message that we really do value people, and we go beyond just applying titles to these folks as heroes, but we’re going to fight to get them the pay that they deserve,” Hernandez said during the meeting. “And I think that is us supporting this ordinance.”

But councilmember Nelida Mendoza, one of two dissenting voters, said the ordinance will cause workers to “suffer tremendously.”

“Some of the unintended consequences of a ‘yes’ vote are as follows: increased operational expenses, decrease in profits, increasing grocery prices, decrease in workforce potential, bankruptcy, potential lawsuit against the City of Santa Ana, eventual store closures, hundreds of Santa Ana grocery and pharmacy workers getting laid off,” Mendoza told council.

She said smaller, independent grocers in Santa Ana have already increased benefits for their employees, without being mandated to do so.

The independent grocer North Gate provided its employees with an additional two weeks of paid sick leave to take care of themselves or ill families, she said.

The company also provided employees who were 65 and older with 90 days of paid leave and provided them with three- to four hours of paid leave to get vaccinated. The store also paid for employees’ rides to and from vaccination sites, Mendoza said.

“These grocers do not need to mandate to show how to treat their employees well and to show their increased appreciation,” she said.

Councilmember Phil Bacerra said that as profits increased for large-scale grocers during the pandemic, it would be greedy of them not to provide their employees with a raise.

“You have a company where the profits are growing between 90 and 150 percent during a pandemic, and those profits aren’t shared with workers who are risking their lives, to make sure that all of us are able to have essential items to have access to them,” Baccera said.

“It’s no longer success. It’s glutton.”

Mayor Pro Tem David Penaloza said that grocery store and retail pharmacy workers should not be singled out for “hero pay” when there are other professions putting their lives at risk.

“Let’s not be selective of what essential workers we’re trying to help,” Penaloza said. “Hero pay for our grocery store employees is great. However, as good as it makes us feel and as great as it sounds, I believe it’s a little shortsighted and has unintended consequences.”

Some of these unintended consequences could include reducing employee overtime hours and grocery store item prices going up, he said.

“A mandate like this, although temporary—and due to the corporate greed at these grocery stores and corporations to inhibit—will cause our grocery store prices to go up,” Penaloza said. “In a perfect fantasy world, these companies would absorb the cost into their profits. But we all know that that isn’t going to happen.”

The City of Irvine was the first in Orange County to approve a hero pay. Its ordinance takes effect March 25.