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Santa Clara County seeks temporary wage hike for front-line workers

Large retailers, many reaping big profits, would be required to provide hazard pay under new ordinance

Cashier Rose Wolfrom scans a plant container at Grocery Outlet in Palo Alto. Santa Clara County is exploring a temporary $5-per-hour increase for front-line workers, such as grocery store employees. Embarcadero Media file photo by Veronica Weber.

Calling it dangerous work worthy of hazard pay during the pandemic, Santa Clara County's Board of Supervisors is looking to impose a temporary $5-per-hour wage increase for grocery and drugstore workers.

Already in place in San Francisco and Oakland, the so-called "hero" pay ordinance in Santa Clara County would compel large chains to pay its essential, front-line workers higher wages for 180 days. Grocery stores, drugstores, fast food restaurants and large retailers that also sell groceries would be included.

The plan is to include all cities in Santa Clara County, rather than just unincorporated areas, though county officials are still exploring whether the county has the legal authority to impose such a wide-reaching wage ordinance.

Supervisor Cindy Chavez said many grocery store and drugstore employees are facing serious health risks showing up to work every day, but have seen little or no additional compensation through the duration of the pandemic. Meanwhile, numerous companies who employ these workers are raking in massive profits and have not faced economic hardship.

"I believe that these wage costs should be borne directly by the corporations, many of which are publicly traded and whose stock prices have only increased during COVID," Chavez said.

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Advocates point to a report released by the Brookings Institute last year, which found top U.S. retail companies are making a windfall during the pandemic, while workers risking their health and well-being have seen little in the way of increased pay.

Some perks — including wage increases and bonuses — were offered at the start of the pandemic but never came back. CVS Pharmacy, for example, gave employees a one-time bonus at the start of the pandemic ranging from $150 to $500, while Amazon gave a $2-per-hour bump to its employees that ended in May last year. Walmart gave one-time bonuses of $300 that ended in August.

Costco and other large retailers that sell groceries could soon be required to provide hazard pay to employees. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

The ordinance would not apply to small businesses and companies that have shuttered during the pandemic, said Supervisor Susan Ellenberg, instead targeting companies that have posted record-breaking profits.

"Many have not only survived but have thrived and grown during this pandemic as other smaller competitors ... have been shuttered," she said. "This growth should be shared with the people they employ."

Union representatives lauded the proposal at the Jan. 26 Board of Supervisors meeting, calling it a lifesaver for employees that have no choice but to put their health at risk and come into contact with hundreds of people every day. Mullissa Willette, a representative from Service Employees International Union Local 521, said she and others have been exploited during the pandemic, and that the $5 wage increase would be a lifeline.

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Multiple fast food workers, speaking in Spanish, told supervisors that they are behind on rent and other bills and have seen their hours cut significantly since the pandemic began.

Not everyone was thrilled with the proposal. Katie Hansen, speaking on behalf of the California Restaurant Association, said restaurants have bent over backwards to follow public health orders and have spent thousands of dollars on staff training and safety-oriented building upgrades. Picking on some segments of the industry — in this case, fast food chains — ignores the "tremendous costs" that have been placed on restaurants, she said.

Randy Pollack, a lobbyist for the International Franchise Association, urged supervisors to "keep the playing field level" and reject the hazard pay bump for franchises, which he said are locally owned, financially independent and struggling just like small businesses throughout Santa Clara County. Another speaker, who said he owns and operates several Wendy's restaurants in the area, said he simply cannot survive a $5 wage bump and already had to close one location.

"The big corporations aren't paying our bills, we pay our own bills," he said. "I've got five restaurants in Santa Clara County that I would have to shut down for 180 days and lay off all those employees, because nobody is going to pay $15 for a hamburger without fries and a soda."

The board voted 4-0, with Supervisor Mike Wasserman recused, to ask staff to draft the hazard pay ordinance. The ordinance will account for companies that have implemented generous pay raises — including Lucky's and Save Mart — that remain in place to this day.

Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.

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Kevin Forestieri writes for the Mountain View Voice, a sister publication of PaloAltoOnline.com.

Kevin Forestieri
Kevin Forestieri is an assistant editor with the Mountain View Voice and The Almanac. He joined the Voice in 2014 and has reported on schools, housing, crime and health. Read more >>

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Santa Clara County seeks temporary wage hike for front-line workers

Large retailers, many reaping big profits, would be required to provide hazard pay under new ordinance

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Wed, Feb 3, 2021, 12:09 pm

Calling it dangerous work worthy of hazard pay during the pandemic, Santa Clara County's Board of Supervisors is looking to impose a temporary $5-per-hour wage increase for grocery and drugstore workers.

Already in place in San Francisco and Oakland, the so-called "hero" pay ordinance in Santa Clara County would compel large chains to pay its essential, front-line workers higher wages for 180 days. Grocery stores, drugstores, fast food restaurants and large retailers that also sell groceries would be included.

The plan is to include all cities in Santa Clara County, rather than just unincorporated areas, though county officials are still exploring whether the county has the legal authority to impose such a wide-reaching wage ordinance.

Supervisor Cindy Chavez said many grocery store and drugstore employees are facing serious health risks showing up to work every day, but have seen little or no additional compensation through the duration of the pandemic. Meanwhile, numerous companies who employ these workers are raking in massive profits and have not faced economic hardship.

"I believe that these wage costs should be borne directly by the corporations, many of which are publicly traded and whose stock prices have only increased during COVID," Chavez said.

Advocates point to a report released by the Brookings Institute last year, which found top U.S. retail companies are making a windfall during the pandemic, while workers risking their health and well-being have seen little in the way of increased pay.

Some perks — including wage increases and bonuses — were offered at the start of the pandemic but never came back. CVS Pharmacy, for example, gave employees a one-time bonus at the start of the pandemic ranging from $150 to $500, while Amazon gave a $2-per-hour bump to its employees that ended in May last year. Walmart gave one-time bonuses of $300 that ended in August.

The ordinance would not apply to small businesses and companies that have shuttered during the pandemic, said Supervisor Susan Ellenberg, instead targeting companies that have posted record-breaking profits.

"Many have not only survived but have thrived and grown during this pandemic as other smaller competitors ... have been shuttered," she said. "This growth should be shared with the people they employ."

Union representatives lauded the proposal at the Jan. 26 Board of Supervisors meeting, calling it a lifesaver for employees that have no choice but to put their health at risk and come into contact with hundreds of people every day. Mullissa Willette, a representative from Service Employees International Union Local 521, said she and others have been exploited during the pandemic, and that the $5 wage increase would be a lifeline.

Multiple fast food workers, speaking in Spanish, told supervisors that they are behind on rent and other bills and have seen their hours cut significantly since the pandemic began.

Not everyone was thrilled with the proposal. Katie Hansen, speaking on behalf of the California Restaurant Association, said restaurants have bent over backwards to follow public health orders and have spent thousands of dollars on staff training and safety-oriented building upgrades. Picking on some segments of the industry — in this case, fast food chains — ignores the "tremendous costs" that have been placed on restaurants, she said.

Randy Pollack, a lobbyist for the International Franchise Association, urged supervisors to "keep the playing field level" and reject the hazard pay bump for franchises, which he said are locally owned, financially independent and struggling just like small businesses throughout Santa Clara County. Another speaker, who said he owns and operates several Wendy's restaurants in the area, said he simply cannot survive a $5 wage bump and already had to close one location.

"The big corporations aren't paying our bills, we pay our own bills," he said. "I've got five restaurants in Santa Clara County that I would have to shut down for 180 days and lay off all those employees, because nobody is going to pay $15 for a hamburger without fries and a soda."

The board voted 4-0, with Supervisor Mike Wasserman recused, to ask staff to draft the hazard pay ordinance. The ordinance will account for companies that have implemented generous pay raises — including Lucky's and Save Mart — that remain in place to this day.

Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.

Kevin Forestieri writes for the Mountain View Voice, a sister publication of PaloAltoOnline.com.

Comments

Calvin
Registered user
Community Center
on Feb 3, 2021 at 3:50 pm
Calvin , Community Center
Registered user
on Feb 3, 2021 at 3:50 pm

Ironically enough, the store pictured above, where I currently work, won’t be receiving this hazard pay. But every other grocery store will. We would gladly welcome any support and feedback directly to our store to help our employees at both of our locations. Thank you


Eva_PA
Registered user
Ventura
on Feb 4, 2021 at 11:14 am
Eva_PA, Ventura
Registered user
on Feb 4, 2021 at 11:14 am

When was that photo taken? It must’ve been pre-Covid because the cashier isn’t wearing a mask! Kind of a funny photo for this article. But does not take away from the necessity to pay our essential workers well during this difficult time.

My friend’s brother-in-law died last year from Covid he contracted at Safeway. And another friend of ours contracted Covid at Safeway in Sonoma. Scary times for these workers.


Jon Castor
Registered user
Woodside
on Feb 4, 2021 at 11:28 am
Jon Castor, Woodside
Registered user
on Feb 4, 2021 at 11:28 am

It’s well meaning but seems risky. As illustrated by this excerpt from the article: “Multiple fast food workers, speaking in Spanish, told supervisors that they are behind on rent and other bills and have seen their hours cut significantly since the pandemic began.” If hours are being cut at a site, the national profits that are being pointed to are probably not being made there. Raise costs at a site that’s already cut back and they may close. Hope someone has looked at this carefully.


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