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‘Hero’ Pay Set to Go Before City Council

Council’s EDTech Committee splits on whether to pay workers COVID-19 hazard pay

Published on Wednesday, March 17, 2021 | 11:58 am
(Photo by Russ Allison Loar/Used under Creative Commons)

Although the Pasadena City Council’s Economic Development and Technology (EDTech) Committee was split Tuesday on supporting an ordinance that would raise hourly pay for grocery store workers for 120 days, the committee agreed to move the item to the full council for consideration.

Councilmembers Steve Madison and Jessica Rivas supported the measure. Vice Mayor Andy Wilson and Councilmember Tyron Hampton spoke in opposition.

The item could appear before the City Council as early as Monday.

L.A. County and the city of Los Angeles have both passed hazard or “hero” pay ordinances requiring large grocery and pharmacy retailers to pay employees more per hour amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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.

The city’s ordinance would allow an increase for 120 days at big grocery chains and pharmacies.  

Pasadena has 15 grocery stores that are owned by large chains, including three Ralphs supermarkets and two Vons stores. 

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

Grocery store workers make about $28,000 a year, according to a city staff report. That comes to $14 an hour, which is less than the Pasadena minimum wage, which increased to $15 an hour in July. 

“When I first started considering this and researching it I was really skeptical because I could see some of the arguments are counter to this initiative in terms of a slippery slope, in terms of viewing pharmacy and grocery workers as being able to work during a time when many others couldn’t,” Madison said.

Madison said he was persuaded because Pasadena should continue to be at the forefront of progressive, positive policies, including economic policies. 

“On the factual merits, what I came to understand was that grocery store and pharmacy workers were fortunate, but this is something they never signed up for,” Madison said, adding he was “gobsmacked” by the annual salary of grocery workers.

“In the past year, these workers have stepped up and put their health on the line,” said Rivas who joined the committee on Tuesday. “The companies that have been impacted have made billions of dollars on the backs of these workers.”

But Wilson said he was concerned about the costs of the increase being passed onto customers, especially low-wage workers. 

“It strikes me as being unfair,” said Wilson, who pointed out that he voted to increase the minimum wage. Wilson pointed out that the city has many workers that could be classified as heroes. 

“And from where we are in the cycle, we’ve seen a 95 percent  drop off [in COVID-19 cases] and just two weeks ago we added grocery store workers to the vaccine list. So it does feel like the timing is maybe after the fact.”

Wilson said the employees have benefitted from union wages, minimum wage increases, and stimulus checks. 

“This will get passed on through the cost of groceries and it’s our low-wage people who spend most of their wages on groceries and shelter. I’m worried about that increase,” said Wilson.

Hampton, who chairs the committee, called the issue tough to decide and pointed out that if the companies opt to close stores, those markets would be located in minority communities. 

The Kroger Co. has announced it is closing three Los Angeles stores following the L.A. City Council’s vote on March 3 to approve a similar ordinance.

A Food 4 Less at 5420 W. Sunset Blvd., and two Ralphs, one at 9616 W. Pico Blvd., and the other at 3300 W. Slauson Ave., will close on May 15, Kroger said Wednesday.

“I know that when the markets do get closed, they are going to be closed in my neighborhood,” Hampton said. “I’m trying to get markets to come into the neighborhoods north of the 210 Freeway.”

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