Oakland Approves Meals Staff Hazardous Pay; Berkeley thinks about it

There are seven Safeway grocery stores in Oakland, which are among the major grocery chains that are required to increase workers’ pay under the new law. Photo: Darwin BondGrahamA version of this story first appeared on Berkeleyside’s sister site, Oaklandside.

Oakland food workers are now receiving a substantial raise.

The city council voted Tuesday to require large grocery stores to pay their employees an additional $ 5 an hour. The law applies to workers in popular stores like Cardenas Markets, Safeway / Albertsons, Save Mart, Target, Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods. Small independent shops are excluded.

The raise is intended to compensate grocery store workers, who are among the state’s most important workforce, for the increased risks they faced during the pandemic. According to a study published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, food workers are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 because they work in closed environments with numerous strangers where it is difficult to distance oneself socially.

The Oakland ordinance will remain in effect until Alameda County falls to amber status in the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy risk assessment system. To enter the yellow tier, the county must have less than one new COVID-19 case per day per 100,000 residents. This is the lowest risk level in the state’s four-tier system, which includes an orange, red, and purple tier above yellow. Alameda County is currently in the purple zone, measuring more than seven new cases per day per 100,000 people.

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The Law on Payment of Hazardous Assets was co-authored by Councilors Nikki Fortunato Bas and Noel Gallo.

“It has become an extreme emergency in certain locations in Oakland,” Gallo said during the meeting. “We have the opportunity to alleviate the plight.”

In the Fruitvale district of Gallo, a major COVID-19 outbreak occurred in the Cardenas market in May when a dozen workers tested positive for COVID, forcing a shutdown and thorough cleaning.

San Francisco and Long Beach have similar ordinances for food workers. Berkeley and Los Angeles are thinking about it.

At the January 19 meeting of Berkeley City Council, Councilors Terry Taplin, Rigel Robinson and Ben Bartlett, along with Mayor Jesse Arreguín, tabled a proposal to give workers in large grocery stores an additional $ 5 an hour during the pandemic. The council members agreed to have the city manager and city attorney review the ordinance before moving into law with the passing of the danger money. If the ordinance is approved, grocery stores with 300 or more employees or that are 2,500 square feet or more in size will be required to pay hazard fines to employees.

While most food workers have been getting their normal pre-pandemic wages since last March, major food companies like Albertsons and Amazon, Whole Foods’ parent company, have reported unexpected profits.

Grocery store workers work indoors in areas where social distancing can be difficult.  Photo: Darwin BondGraham Grocery store workers work indoors in areas where social distancing can be difficult. Photo: Darwin BondGraham

Some grocery stores have taken the initiative to increase their workers’ pay. In response to public and union pressure, Trader Joe’s announced yesterday that they would be giving a $ 4 increase to all of their employees nationwide.

City and unions will enforce the dangerous wage rule

City administrator Edward Reiskin expressed concerns about the ability of city staff to implement and enforce the Emergency Money Ordinance. Reiskin recommended that the council hold back its vote on the dangerous wage on Tuesday as it needs to address the unknown tax implications it could have on the city and concerns that city officials are unable to enforce the law.

“We do not have the capacity to fully implement this as it is,” said Reiskin during yesterday’s council meeting. “I hear the strong support for this and we will do our best with the resources that are available to support the implementation.”

Councilor Bas said that of the 2,000 grocery store workers in Oakland who would be covered by this ordinance, about 1,200 are members of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which has its own lawyers to bring claims on behalf of workers. “We really hope that with the attention this receives, it will be a very collaborative environment between employers, workers, the city and workers’ representatives to support our health and safety.”

Barbara Leslie, CEO of the Oakland Metro Chamber of Commerce, said her group had proposed technical recommendations to the city council to “ensure that once the laws are passed, they can be implemented effectively and with a balanced approach”.

“The Chamber continues to encourage the City Council to better coordinate with their technical and administrative staff to ensure they have a full view of the staff’s ability to implement and the intended and unintended effects of this and other laws,” said Leslie.

Ron Fong, president and CEO of the California Grocers Association, told the East Bay Times that laws like Oakland’s could have “unintended consequences” for forcing employers to give workers a “huge” wage increase.

But dozens of residents called the meeting to express their support for the $ 5 increase.

“Almost the entire food budget of my cooperative now goes into the purchase of groceries,” said the resident Rachel Beck during the public comment of the council meeting. “We did our best to buy groceries from stores that please their employees. Thank you for encouraging all major grocery stores to do the same. “

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