Costa Mesa approved an urgency ordinance Tuesday night that will require grocers to provide an additional $4 per hour for workers during the coronavirus pandemic, a move already made by several other Southern California cities.
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Grocery and retail drugstores’ employees will receive the “hero pay” on top of their existing hourly pay for 120 days, according to a city staff report. The ordinance applies to stores with 15 or more staff and those who employ at least 300 workers nationwide.
City Council approved the item Tuesday night in a 6-1 vote, with Council member Don Harper dissenting.
“I wanna do this for these workers, I really do,” Harper said at the meeting. “But I have a difficult time as a representative of a voter base or a government official doing this. I don’t think that’s our role. Not even close.”
In multiple public comments at the meeting, grocery store workers described their experiences during the pandemic, including being harassed and spat on.
According to City Manager Lori Ann Farrell Harrison, the 120 day period would compensate these workers during Orange County’s vaccination rollout.
“To put yourself out there like this and not even have a livable wage, it’s almost unthinkable right now,” Council member Loren Gameros said Tuesday night.
The city has been considering an ordinance since early February, but delayed the issue to conduct more research.
Talks about adopting hero pay or hazard pay ordinances have faced resistance.
The California Grocers Association has opposed similar mandates in cities throughout the state, and has taken legal action against both Long Beach and West Hollywood for approving hero pay, according to Costa Mesa’s staff report.
Some concerned groups during Tuesday’s meeting also worried Costa Mesa’s decision could lead to inflated grocery prices in the city, calling the ordinance government overreach on the council’s part.
“I’m erring on the side of doing something good under extraordinary circumstances for a hundred and twenty days, and capping that to a limited scope of people and a limited pay,” said Mayor Pro Tem Andrea Marr. “I’m okay that this isn’t something the government normally does. This is an exception that I feel comfortable with.”
The ordinance goes into effect immediately, and will remain in effect for four months.