SANTA BARBARA, Calif.
"Hero pay"could soon put extra money in the pockets of workers at large grocery and drug stores in the city of Santa Barbara.
The City Council voted 5-1 to pass an emergency ordinance establishing 60 days of $5.00 and hour "hero pay" for grocery and drug retail workers at companies with at least 300 employees nationwide.
Meagan Harmon and Oscar Gutierrez introduced the hazard pay idea that has been adopted in about 30 other California communities. Eric Friedman recused himself from the vote due to a conflict of interest. He works at Trader Joe's. Mike Jordon was the only council member to vote against the idea.
Mayor Cathy Murillo said it is not too late in the pandemic to do this for local workers.
"As of today 33 percent of the people in Santa Barbara are fully vaccinated, so the pandemic is not over. This is the right time to pay these hard working workers some hero pay."
Murillo believes supermarkets can afford it.
"The big supermarkets made huge profits last year, and going into this year, too. Everybody was home cooking, everybody was buying from the grocery stores, so we are trying to help that profit get down to the worker."
But Grocers Association President and CEO Ron Fong said, "We're disappointed the Santa Barbara City Council decided to move forward with the grocery hazard ordinance, despite the county having made considerable progress towards reopening, and in distributing vaccines. Grocery prices are already being pushed higher by inflation, supply issues, and environmental challenges, and this extra pay mandate will only lead to even higher grocery prices for families that are already struggling."
The Director of Corporate Affairs at Ralphs agrees.
John Votava said, "At Ralphs our valued associates are our number one asset for our company, and since the start of the pandemic we have taken measures to reward our associates through one-time cash payments, temporary hourly wage increases, and store credits. Our company has risen to meet the challenges of the COVID pandemic head-on by investing $2.5 billion dollars to reward our associates, to strengthen pensions, at a time when 93 percent of corporations in America don't offer a pension."
Votava said Ralphs is also spending money on protective gear and is offering incentives to workers who get vaccinated.
"While extra pay won't make our associates any safer, the vaccine will. That is why Ralphs is providing a $100 credit to any associate who gets the vaccine."
Rachel Torres supports the ordinance. The deputy political and civil rights director for the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770 said, "Grocery and drug retail workers have been putting their lives on the line since the beginning of the pandemic."
The labor union represents about 30,000 local workers.
"The companies they work for have received record profits meanwhile only about 30 percent of grocery and drug retail and residents of Santa Barbara have been fully vaccinated. Grocery and drug retail workers definitely deserve what many other workers throughout the state of California are already being paid, " said Torres.
It could mean an extra $2400 dollars for workers in city that has a high cost of living.
Mayor Murillo said there would be a credit for stores currently giving workers hazard or "hero pay."
If the ordinance is approved after a final reading next Tuesday it will go into effect 30 days later in early June.