Oakland Approves ‘Hazard Pay' for Grocery Workers; Debate in San Jose Continues

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The Oakland City Council on Tuesday voted to require major grocery chains in the city to pay workers more during the pandemic. San Jose city leaders are debating a similar proposal.

The "hazard" or "hero" pay ordinance in Oakland goes into effect immediately and applies to chains that have 500 or more employees nationwide.

In San Jose, the city council is looking at whether to implement an emergency ordinance requiring grocery store chains to give workers an additional $5 an hour for the COVID-19 risks they face.

John Nunes, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers union representing 30,000 workers from Monterey to the Oregon border, said the employees deserve the extra pay.

"Not only are they putting themselves at risk, they also have family members at home that they could be bringing the pandemic to, which has happened over and over and over again," he said. "Food and commercial workers on a nationwide scale have had over 120 employees succumb to the coronavirus and have died as a result of exposing themselves in the workplace."

Those representing the grocery industry warn that mandating so-called "heroes" or "hazard" pay will only drive up grocery prices and could lead to grocery stores shuttering some stores.

"You're going to force grocery store owners and managers to make some difficult decisions," Ron Fong with the California Grocers Association said. "One will be to pass the cost along to our consumers. CGA has done an economic study and that's going to amount to somewhere near $400 per family annually."

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo wrote a memo asking the city council to hold off on making a decision Tuesday and wait until Santa Clara County supervisors decide whether to implement a similar countywide mandate later this month.

He also expressed concerns that Food 4 Less recently announced it would close 25% of its stores as a result of a similar ordinance in Southern California.

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