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San Jose passes hazard pay for grocery workers
San Jose became the latest Bay Area city in requiring large grocery stores to offer hazard pay to its employees.
The San Jose City Council voted 7-3 Tuesday to pass a law requiring large grocery stores to pay their workers an additional $3-an-hour on top of their regular pay to compensate employees continuing to face increased risks of the coronavirus as they interact with streams of customers in enclosed spaces.
The ordinance requires grocery stores with 300 or more employees nationwide to offer the pay bump for 120 days. It takes effect 30 days from the final adoption, which is expected in the coming weeks. Because the council was unable to garner eight votes, the ordinance could not go into effect immediately.
Last week, Oakland adopted a measure requiring grocers to pay workers an additional $5 per hour on top of their regular pay. Councilmembers voted unanimously and the law went into effect immediately after the vote.
Proponents of the measure, including the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, say grocery store workers have risked their lives throughout the pandemic by being in constant contact with customers. Many have contracted the virus and 137 grocery workers have died across the country, according to the union which said it only kept a tally for unionized workers so the numbers could be higher.
“The San Jose City Council passed a much-needed hazard pay ordinance for thousands of local grocery workers in San Jose,” Jim Araby, spokesman for the union said in a statement. “Some of the pandemic profits will be put back in the pockets of grocery workers who face the risks of exposure to ensure that our communities have access to food.”
Other cities such as Long Beach, Santa Monica, Montebello (Los Angeles County) and Seattle have passed similar laws mandating supplemental pay for grocery store workers. Santa Clara County will vote later this month for a $5-an-hour paycheck bump for workers in grocery stores and fast-food restaurants in the county, excluding San Jose.
The hazard pay momentum has received pushback by the California Grocers Association, a trade group representing grocers. The group contends that the laws can cause economic harm for grocers and could lead to store closures. Some supermarket could also pass the cost of the new laws onto customers.
A day after Oakland passed its law, the trade group filed a lawsuit against the city seeking to declare the new law unconstitutional. It also filed a case against Montebello, and has a pending case against Long Beach, the first city to enact a hazard pay requirement on grocers in the state.
After Long Beach implemented a $4-an-hour increase for grocery workers, Kroger this month said it soon will close a Ralphs and Food 4 Less, specifically citing the “misguided” city rule as a reason for closing.
But other grocers such The Save Mart Companies which operates the Lucky, Save Mart and FoodMaxx stores, a unionized supermarket chain has continued its hazard pay, which ranges from $2.50 to $3.50 an hour since the beginning of the pandemic, according to Araby. It counts 16,000 employees across 225 stores.
Trader Joe’s, which is not unionized, voluntarily raised its “thank you” pay from $2 to $4-an-hour last week. The grocer has been paying hazard pay since the beginning of the pandemic.