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‘Hero’ Pay Fails Amid Split Council

Ordinance fails due to 4-4 vote

Published on Monday, March 22, 2021 | 6:57 pm

The City Council’s efforts to pass hero pay failed on Monday with a 4-4 vote.

The council needed five votes to pass the item which would temporarily raise hourly wages for local grocery store and pharmacy workers.

But only Mayor Victor Gordo, Steve Madison, John Kennedy and Jessica Rivas supported the item.

“All of the essential workers in the City deserve just compensation and a safe work environment,” said Felicia Williams, who opposed hero pay. “I am very concerned about price increases and potential store closures that could affect people who are struggling. As a City we need to consider everyone and should focus on providing financial support to businesses, renters, and others who need it. Our Health Department can also help vaccinate and enforce health orders to reduce the risk to essential workers.” 

Long Beach, Pomona, Montebello, Santa Ana, Costa Mesa, and Irvine have passed ordinances that pay these workers an additional $4 an hour.

Los Angeles, Santa Monica and West Hollywood offer an additional $5 an hour.

Pasadena has 15 grocery stores that are owned by large chains, including three Ralphs supermarkets and two Vons stores. About 50 percent of those stores are unionized.

The city spent the last several days attempting to get information from the stores.

Smaller supermarkets would not fall under the ordinance. The subject was raised by Councilmember Steve Madison during a recent City Council meeting.

“Grocery stores have strived,” said Steve Madison, who introduced the item. “The intent would be to provide a short term mitigation to these workers who had to work in these intense environment during COVID.”

City officials could not provide exact pay data for grocery store owners.

In the council agenda, staff listed the average pay for grocery workers in California at about $17.50 – $18 per hour,” according to Monday’s agenda. “A $5 increase represents approximately a 28 percent increase.

“I’ve witnessed businesses in my districts close, especially smaller businesses that are the heart of our economy, but I think it’s sending the right message,” said John Kennedy. “This is an opportunity for this council to step up.”

Vice Mayor Andy Wilson opposed the ordinance pointing out that he supported a minimum wage increase for low wage earners.

“I question the selective nature of the legislature,” Wilson said he was concerned about price increases. “I am somebody that can absorb the price increases, but I worry about the unemployed people.”

Kroger Inc., which owns Ralphs and Food 4 Less supermarkets, said it will shutter at least five stores in Los Angeles and Long Beach after those cities enacted hazard, or “hero” pay ordinances for grocery store and pharmacy workers.

The five stores include three Ralphs stores — one at 9616 W. Pico Blvd. in Los Angeles, another at 3300 W. Slauson Ave., also in Los Angeles, and another at 3380 N. Los Coyotes Diagonal, in Long Beach.

“I struggle with it. I think a lot of businesses are struggling right now,” said Gene Masuda. “I’m not sure I am prepared to make an increase for a special group. I’m worried about higher prices for the residents.”

Two Food 4 Less stores, one at 5420 W. Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood, and the other at 2185 E. South St., also in Long Beach, are also being targeted for closure.

The company, which said the stores were “long-struggling” locations, said they will be closed on May 15.

“Regardless of what we do there is going to be an impact and that is going to be how much bread cost, how much milk cost,” said Tyron Hampton.

In an email to Pasadena Now on Sunday, John Votava of the Kroger Family of Companies, which includes Ralphs and Food 4 Less, has invested $2.5 billion to both reward associates and implement dozens of safety measures, including $1 billion for better secure pensions.

“The company also continues to provide rewards for associates, including recently issuing $50 million in rewards to frontline associates. Since the start of the pandemic, Ralphs, Food 4 Less and all Kroger frontline associates have received seven rewards in the form of one-time cash payments, temporary hourly wage increases and store credits,” Votava said.

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