Arcata City Council to consider ‘hero pay’ ordinance for local grocery workers Wednesday

Grocery store workers in Arcata could soon be getting paid more money hourly during the pandemic if the city council moves forward with a ‘hero pay’ ordinance.

On Wednesday, the Arcata City Council will begin discussing the potential adoption of an emergency ordinance requiring grocery stores to pay their employees slightly higher wages.

A movement to give workers hazard pay for working in-person during the COVID-19 pandemic is growing across the state. Major cities like Los Angeles, Long Beach, and San Francisco have recently adopted such ordinances.

John Frahm, North Coast Director of the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 5, says now is the time to implement such requirements locally.

Frahm says he and the UFCW are proposing hazard pay ordinances to cities and counties across the North Coast.

“Since early July, employers have not offered any type of ‘hero pay’ to workers for taking the additional risk during the pandemic of being essential workers,” Frahm said via Zoom Tuesday. “[Grocers] have not shared those benefits with the grocery workers who take the highest risk by showing up every day.”

Proponents of higher pay for such workers, like Frahm, say that grocery workers have been unable to work from home and have been put at risk for contracting the virus.

Frahm also cites increased profits from major grocery retailers in the year since the pandemic began as a reason for employers to kick back some of the money they made back to workers.

“When employers are not going to, on their own, choose to help people; we believe it’s the role of government to come in and tell them they need to do that,” Frahm said.

The proposal submitted by UFCW suggests a $4 per hour pay bump at stores that employ 500 or more people nationwide and 15 or more locally; and a $3 per hour increase at stores that employ between 25 and 500 people locally.

Frahm says the proposal is fair because it is temporary. The proposal suggests that such an emergency ordinance would last for an initial 90 days unless it is extended, or if Humboldt County were to move into the yellow tier on the state’s reopening blueprint.

There is some concern among supporters of hazard pay after a few Kroger-owned grocery stores closed in Los Angeles and Seattle where similar ordinances were recently passed.

Frahm believes local stores are not at risk if local ‘hero pay’ ordinances are passed because demand for local grocers is high.

“A temporary ordinance of 90 days for $3 or $4 an hour isn’t going to close our grocers. Part of our limitation up here is actually our strength in knowing that this is where the need is right now,” Frahm said.

The UFCW says it expects similar ordinances to be discussed by the Eureka City Council and the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors later this month.

The Arcata City Council meeting starts at 6 p.m. Wednesday. You can view the meeting online by clicking here.