Third Orange County City Mulls Hero Pay for Grocery Workers

Third Orange County City Mulls Hero Pay for Grocery Workers
A Food 4 Less employee pushes carts past supermarket workers gathered to protest in front of the supermarket in Long Beach, California on February 3, 2021, after a decision by owner Kroger to close two supermarkets rather than pay workers an additional $4 in "hazard pay" for their continued work during the coronavirus pandemic. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

Buena Park has become the latest Orange County city to consider boosting the paychecks of grocery workers during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

City council will discuss during its Feb. 23 meetings a proposed $4 per hour premium pay to grocery store employees at qualifying retail businesses.

But at least one Buena Park councilmember said she had concerns about the move.

“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,” Mayor Pro Tem Sunny Youngsun Park told The Epoch Times.

“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.”

Buena Park is the third Orange County city to explore increasing the hourly wages of grocery workers. Irvine became the first city to pass such an ordinance Feb. 9, and its bill was scheduled to be finalized Feb. 23.

Santa Ana is also implementing a hero pay law; its councilmembers are expected to vote on an ordinance by March 2.

Meantime, Long Beach faced backlash over its hero pay after Kroger announced 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,” says a company statement. “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.”

In Buena Park, two versions of a proposed hero pay ordinance will be up for discussion, at the request of Mayor Connor Traut.

An urgency ordinance would become effective immediately with a four-five vote. A standard ordinance, which requires a majority vote for introduction, would require majority approval following a second reading of the ordinance at least five days later. It would go into effect 30 days after approval.

“Workers at these establishments have encountered new hazards in their jobs; jobs which prior to the pandemic were not considered particularly dangerous,” says the city report. “The nature of their employment precludes ‘working remotely’ and presents practical barriers to complying with recommended health protocols, such as social distancing or limiting contact outside one’s household.”

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.

Managers and supervisors would be excluded from the ordinance, which would be in place for at least 120 days after taking effect.

Buena Park’s mayor pro tem said would consider all options before casting her vote.
“I saw grocers in Buena Park lowering the price for eggs voluntarily in March last year.  I know some of them paid their workers a large Christmas bonus,” Youngsun Park said. “They just did not call it a hero pay.  I hope that they continue their good deed no matter what.  We will consider all options to come up with a good policy for all sides tonight.”
Michelle Thompson is an editor and reporter based in Orange County, California. Her award-winning work has appeared in numerous major Canadian daily newspapers, as well as multiple U.S. publications.
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