San Jose City Council Is Considering Hazard Pay For Food Workers

On Tuesday, the San Jose City Council will vote on a proposal that large grocery stores, supermarket chains, and retail stores that sell groceries should pay an additional $ 5 an hour for employees.

If passed, the ordinance introduced by Councilor Sergio Jimenez would be implemented immediately and expire if the county’s COVID-19 health ordinance is repealed.

“In addition to doctors and nurses, retail grocers have served San Jose residents at tremendous risk,” said Jimenez.

Retail workers, including grocery store workers, are five times more likely to test positive for COVID-19, according to a study published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

“Paying for hazards is necessary in order to rightly compensate grocery retailers for the clear and present hazards of their work during the pandemic, ensure the well-being of workers, and keep our much-needed food supply chain operational,” added Jimenez.

The additional compensation would only apply to food suppliers who employ 300 or more people nationwide.

Small corner shops, corner shops and smaller ethnic supermarkets would not be subject to the regulation as they have already been disproportionately hit by COVID-19, Jimenez said.

In the early days of the pandemic, some grocery stores voluntarily introduced “hero pay” or “appreciation pay” wage increases, but many stopped, Jimenez said.

However, retailers who continue to provide workers with additional wages will receive a credit. That is, if a grocer paid employees an additional $ 2 an hour in COVID-19-related salaries, it would only have to provide $ 3 more an hour to offset the $ 5 owed to workers.

Erik Larsen, a 53-year-old San Jose resident, started working at Lucky’s Supermarkets after losing his job at the start of the pandemic.

In a letter to the council, Larsen said hazard payment was essential for him and his staff, who are “vital in the food supply chain”.

“I put myself in danger,” he wrote. “It’s really only a matter of time if I’m exposed to COVID. Do I make more while big companies make money with my fist on my back? Yes, I do.”

He found that many customers had bypassed COVID-19 security protocols, which placed employees at higher risk. Over the months, he saw many employees “disappear” because they were infected while management was “silent”.

“I realized this was not a joke,” wrote Larsen.

So his question to the city council members is: “What is my work worth?”

The risk payment proposal was presented last week to a rules and open government committee where four of the committee’s five councilors approved the plan.

Councilor Dev Davis disagreed, saying she feared grocers would raise their prices to accommodate the risk payment, forcing residents to pay the bill instead.

However, Jimenez, along with council members Sylvia Arenas, David Cohen, Raul Peralez and Vice Mayor Chappie Jones, stressed the need for the additional pay, especially for those struggling to make up for financial losses after the COVID-19 deal closes.

A similar proposal was unveiled last week at the Santa Clara County’s Board of Directors meeting when regulators voted to develop a “Hero Pay” ordinance to raise the hourly wages of some key workers by $ 5.

The additional allowance would last 180 days and apply to grocery / retail stores with 300 or more employees across the country and companies that are publicly traded.

The motion was passed 4: 1, with Supervisor Mike Wasserman abstaining because of his financial ties with McDonald’s Corp. that would be affected by the change.

A draft of “Hero Pay” will be submitted to regulators for approval at their February 23 meeting.

San Jose councilors could introduce hazard payment as early as Tuesday.

“Let’s remember that those workers who risk their lives to provide us with food and services are doing so to provide for themselves and their families,” said Jimenez. “This is our opportunity to show them that we recognize their contributions, respect and value their courage, and above all, appreciate their worth.”

San Jose City Council will discuss the Hazard Payments Ordinance at its 4:00 p.m. session on Tuesday at the earliest. More information can be found at https://sanjoseca.zoom.us/j/91325378626.

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