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A majority of Anaheim City Council members said they’re against mandating companies give a $3 an hour temporary raise to retail, grocery and drug store employees for working during the pandemic.
Many grocery workers say their job has put the health of themselves and their families at risk, helping coin the phrase, “Hero Pay.”
Several other Orange County cities, including Irvine, Santa Ana, Costa Mesa and Buena Park have already passed “hero pay” laws, each effective for about four months. Each law gave certain workers a temporary $4 an hour raise and will expire by July.
Anaheim City Councilman Jose Moreno requested the discussion on the temporary raises and said he wanted to hear the opinions of the rest of the council before directing staff to draft an ordinance.
While the City Council didn’t vote on any specific ordinances during Tuesday night’s discussion, four of the seven council members said they’re against enforcing a temporary raise.
After hearing the majority of the council oppose offering hazard pay, Moreno directed city staff to return to the next meeting with two ordinances both offering an additional $3 an hour for 60 days.
One is an urgency ordinance that would take effect immediately if council members approve it on the first vote and the other is a regular ordinance, which would take effect 30 days after the second vote on it.
Councilmen Jordan Brandman and Avelino Valencia supported Moreno’s request.
Moreno directed staff to make the ordinances only apply to corporations that have at least 50 stores to avoid impacting small businesses, as suggested by Valencia.
Councilman Trevor O’Neil said while he appreciates the work of grocery, retail and drug store workers, it is unfair for the city to only focus on a certain group of people despite thousands of people losing their jobs.
“We all know someone who is essential and has worked through the pandemic,” O’Neil said. “It is not the government’s role to get involved. It is the government’s role to create a level playing field, not tip the scales in favor of one business or one type of worker over another.”
Tustin became the first Orange County city to reject a hazard pay ordinance in a 3-2 vote on April 20.
Moreno said it was important that council members go beyond verbally thanking the workers for stepping up during the pandemic and should help support them financially.
“That’s why this is important to still consider in a temporary and modest way so that our city can avoid an economic catastrophe for our workers who stepped up for us over the last 14 months,” Moreno said.
Moreno said economic research indicates when workers receive hourly wage increases, they tend to spend their money locally, boosting the local economy.
Many public commenters who said they work at grocery stores voiced their frustration at working during the pandemic and asking the council to show compassion.
Council Member Jose Diaz said there are several countries where the government tells businesses how to pay their employees and that Anaheim shouldn’t be like them.
Instead, he said, employees should negotiate their pay with their employer.
Diaz said he’s uncertain of the legal grounds behind the hazard pay ordinances and didn’t want to use the city’s resources to potentially deal with litigation when they could focus on other issues.
“If we want a solution, the solution is already here. It’s called vaccination,” Diaz said.
Mayor Harry Sidhu said the time to adopt hazard pay ordinances ended and the city is on the path to leave the pandemic behind.
He said that drafting an ordinance now could have unintended consequences, like companies raising prices or closing stores in hard hit communities.
Anaheim City Council members are slated to vote on the two hazard pay ordinances on May 18.
A previous version of this story listed an incorrect date for the upcoming city council meeting.
Anthony Robledo is a reporting intern for Voice of OC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @AnthonyARobledo