Some cities in Orange County have adopted ordinances that would give grocery employees a few extra dollars an hour — also called “hero pay” or “hazard pay” — as they work during the coronavirus pandemic.
Costa Mesa could be next.
“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,” reads a Costa Mesa staff report.
City officials will meet Tuesday at 6 p.m. to consider an urgency ordinance that would make employers provide an extra $4 an hour for grocery workers for roughly the next four months.
Residents can watch the meeting via Zoom, Youtube or through the city website using the instructions provided on the agenda linked here.
Irvine was the first in Orange County to adopt a hazard pay law in February. Santa Ana and Buena Park both adopted similar ordinances earlier this month.
Costa Mesa officials have been mulling over the issue for a while now, first scheduling a discussion for an early February meeting before canceling that conversation to do more research on what a hero pay law would look like.
City Council members did take up the discussion at their meeting on March 2 where they voted 6-1 to direct staff to come up with a hazard pay ordinance. Councilman Don Harper was the dissenting vote.
“It’s not our role as a council. It’s not our role as a government,” Harper said about dictating pay. “I feel like there are council members that are catering to unions who have collected money from unions.”
Harper also said he has empathy for grocery store workers but doesn’t understand why they would receive hazard pay, while other workers like restaurant servers do not.
The California Grocers Association has opposed ordinances like this that have popped up in the state and has filed legal action against a few cities, including Long Beach and West Hollywood, according to the staff report.
The association says these laws unfairly single out grocery stores while leaving out other businesses who employ essential workers.
The majority of public commenters at the March 2 meeting supported hero pay in Costa Mesa, saying they face burdens as grocery clerks dealing with customers who refuse to wear masks and while living with immunocompromised family members.
“The city of Irvine has moved this forward. The city of Santa Ana has just moved this forward. It’s imperative that cities step in now to make sure that these workers in these grocery and retail drugstores are not only … called heroes but that these companies put their money where their mouth is,” Matt Bell, the secretary-treasurer of a workers union told the council that night.
He added that the companies have “reaped huge profits and it’s now time for them to pay the money that these workers absolutely deserve.”
If adopted Tuesday, the ordinance would take effect immediately.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him @firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam