Modifications to Irvine’s recently approved “hero pay” for grocery workers are being made in an effort to shield small businesses from the measure, say some city councilors.
Updates to the proposed ordinance sought to remove some of the smaller stores by increasing the minimum number of store employees from 15 to 20 and increasing the nationwide number of employees from 300 to 500.
“[We] had those [changes] added just to provide additional buffer for smaller businesses and smaller markets.” Vice Mayor Tammy Kim told The Epoch Times on Feb. 15.
On Feb. 9, city council approved in a narrow 3–2 vote a proposed pay for grocery workers. Qualifying employees will receive an extra $4 per hour for the next four months.
Stores that have fewer than 15,000 square feet will be allowed as exceptions to the law.
During the recent council meeting, councilmembers Larry Agran, Tammy Kim, and Mayor Farrah Khan voted in favor of the ordinance, while councilmembers Mike Carroll and Anthony Kuo voted against it.
Kuo told The Epoch Times that Kim added the provisions to provide a loophole for small, minority-owned stores.
“I think [Kim] believes that somehow, not automatically, but that [the changes] somehow exempts a lot of the minority-serving grocery stores,” Kuo said. “We have some Asian grocery stores in town that certainly aren’t as large as the Kroger or Ralph’s or Albertsons, so I think that she feels that may be a little bit of a loophole for them. Now, I don’t think it’s a loophole for larger stores like 99 Ranch and H Mart, but…I think that that perhaps may have shifted her vote.”
Kuo said he voted against the measure over concerns it could lead to legal trouble for the city. Some cities that enacted such an ordinance have been sued, he said.
He also questioned why grocery workers in particular were being rewarded.
“It’s nice to have this feel-good thing that we’re going to temporarily mandate that a private business is going to pay their employees more, but why are we weighing in on one industry, and not weighing in on general retailers, or other occupations?” Kuo said.
But Agran’s thinking regarding the large grocery stores differed.
“I think it’s fair, I think it’s appropriate, and because they are working in businesses that are actually doing very well economically in the course of this pandemic, I think it’s important to have what we call a shared sacrifice, where the firms that employ them are sharing some of their additional profits,” Agran said.
Agran added that he doesn’t believe it will necessarily lead to the direct closing of stores.
“Internally, these firms have high performing stores and low performing stores,” he said. “They’re always in the process of opening and shutting particular stores around the country, and so I don’t think that’s a concern at all that I have.”
According to the agenda for Irvine’s next council meeting, 83 Irvine retail (drug and grocery) workers are confirmed to have COVID-19 as of Feb. 2, and one retail worker has died.
The proposed hero pay will have a total of three readings, with the second one occurring on Feb. 23.