Hazard pay for some essential workers is coming to unincorporated areas of Santa Clara County in 30 days.
On Tuesday, the county Board of Supervisors voted to temporarily mandate large grocery stores and pharmacies to provide an additional $5 in hourly pay to employees on top of their regular wage.
“This ordinance advances a significant public purpose that seeks to compensate certain essential workers for facing increased risks and incurring increased costs during the pandemic in order to ensure that they continue to have stable and reliable access to food, medicine and other daily necessities of daily lives,” Supervisor Susan Ellenberg said.
The boost in pay would last 180 days or until the county’s Covid-19 public health emergency is terminated.
The new mandate applies to grocery stores and pharmacies with more than 300 employees nationwide and at least 15 employees in unincorporated areas of the county. It also applies to franchises that own at least 10 grocery or drug stores in the state.
The approved legislation is a scaled-back version of an original proposal from January that would've applied to every city in the county, except San Jose, and would’ve included large-chain restaurant workers. Board President Mike Wasserman recused himself from the vote because of his financial ties to McDonald’s.
The $5 boost and the length of the hazard pay from the original proposal remain unchanged.
Pressure from business groups that represent grocers forced the county’s hand—a move Ellenberg found disappointing.
“Contrary to the argument of some opponents, this is not special interest legislation,” Ellenberg said. “The fact that this ordinance only addresses (certain grocery store and pharmacy workers) ... but not all workers is not a reason to be concerned about motives. It is an incremental step to remedy some harm.”
The most notable opposition came from the California Grocers Association, which has filed several lawsuits against California cities that enacted similar laws.
The organization argued the additional pay would force grocers to take cost-cutting measures like raising the price of goods or cutting employee hours, as well as closing stores.
“Unfortunately, the [hazard pay] would mandate grocery stores to provide additional pay beyond what is economically feasible, which would severely impact store viability and result in increased prices for groceries, limited operating hours, reduced hours for workers, fewer workers per store and most concerning, possible store closures,” Tim James of the California Grocers Association said in a letter to the supervisors.
The Silicon Valley Chamber Coalition, the region’s largest chambers of commerce, also organized against the ordinance—arguing that pay boosts would result in lost jobs and worsen food insecurity.
The chamber coalition, comprised of 18 local chambers of commerce, touted its success in a monthly newsletter, saying the new changes “would have almost zero impact on businesses and workers in our community.”
To them, the better solution was to get employees vaccinated as soon as possible.
However, local labor groups, unions and community organizations argued that the ordinance was essential as employees risked the lives of loved ones and themselves to provide essential services to the community.
Jim Arby, director of strategic campaigns for United Food & Commercial Workers Union Local 5, said he didn’t buy the argument that grocers couldn’t afford the hazard pay.
“Kroger, which also owns QFC, Fred Meyers, Harris Teeter, and Ralphs, is touting a massive surge in profits—$2 billion over 2 quarters in 2020, according to a report on the Brookings Institute’s website. Albertsons, which owns Randalls, Safeway and Star Market made a profit of $871 million over three quarters in 2020, an explosive increase of threefold from the year prior,” Arby wrote. “Make no mistake—these companies are massively profiting off of the pandemic, but supposedly cannot afford to provide their employees with hazard pay of a few dollars in spite of their employees being at risk every day to do their jobs.”
But Ellenberg noted that this ordinance ensured “air-tight enforcement ... given limitations of the law.”
Ellenberg also asked county counsel to share the ordinance with the cities in the county and encourage them to adopt a similar ordinance as soon as possible.
“Consistency across the county would certainly be of value to employers, even those that feel burdened by the ordinance and would help us to be more broadly impactful on behalf of those who could truly use some extra support right now,” she said.
With this hazard pay, the county joins other Bay Area cities like Oakland and San Jose, which was the first city in the county to approve hazard pay earlier this month.
All I have to say is I’ve been a grocery delivery driver through out the whole pandemic, fires and ungrateful people who dont seem to take into consideration what happens to those risking their lives to support their own family and help get food on their families table. Why aren’t grocery delivery drivers not considered essential? I vehemently disagree and respectfully request that we also be considered for hazard pay and it should go retro from when all the madness started.
If I was a grocer dealing with an forced $5 an hour pay for all employees, I would do the following. I’d figure out the cost of the wage increase, and look at hourly sales, and then figure out how early I would need to close my store to make it work out. Or figure out which hours ae less profitable, and turn those FT employees into PT employees.
My guess is, that employees will work fewer hours. And shoppers will have fewer hours to shop with this whole mess.
Who thinks that mandating an extra $5 an hour will keep exactly what we have? If you think that, you need to bone up on basic Econ 101.
On the Question of Essential Workers and Essential Politicians
As noted in Ms. Kadah’s piece, the business lobby’s assessment is that the Supervisors’ policy will have “almost zero impact” as a direct result of the business’ lobby’s pressure on the Board of Supervisors. If anyone had any doubts whatsoever about who runs the show around here, this feckless move should dispel them. The neoliberals, including my very own Supervisor Ellenberg, are totally captured by, and completely at the mercy of, the Silicon Valley Organization (SVO) and other similar groupings of organized business power (https://www.siliconvalley.com/2021/02/23/santa-clara-county-passes-hazard-pay-for-grocery-and-pharmacy-workers/).
Ellenberg herself should know a lot about these organizations. She is a former employee of the SVO, a fact that has somehow been scrubbed from many biographies of her on-line (https://www.bizjournals.com/sanjose/news/2017/05/08/the-silicon-valley-organizations-susan-ellenberg.html). She also currently sits on the board of Joint Venture Silicon Valley, an organization dominated by big business but that sells itself as a civic-minded “partnership” while promoting a business-first perspective, completely in line with the “trickle down” mythology pushed by Reaganesque neoliberals (https://jointventure.org/about-us/board-of-directors). As a product of Ivy League universities and networks, she is completely at home and in tune with elite interests and thinking.
If the Board of Supervisors operated like the courts, most or all of them would have had to recuse themselves–as did Wassserman–due to conflicts of interest. (By the way, do his ties to McDonald’s mean they have a better chance of getting away with violations of health, safety and/or labor standards in our county? Something to thing about.) These politicians both take campaign money, and receive material support, from the likes of the SVO membership and also legislate in ways that materially effects those same vested interests.
Such an obvious, baked-in conflict of interest does not signal the system is broken; rather, it is proof positive that the system is fixed as it has always been. That’s what the wealthy founders and framers had in mind. That is the meaning of the Madisonian model designed at every turn to protect the minority (wealth holders) from the majority (non-wealth holders) (http://cstl-cla.semo.edu/kpsexton/pdfs/MadisonianModel.pdf).
In the larger scheme of things, politicians like those on the Board of Supervisors, are absolutely essential to business interests and the wealthy. They are “essential politicians,” the ones who will serve elite needs first and foremost. Meanwhile, essential workers, the people without whom nothing moves and whose lives have been and are literally on the line, get platitudes and empty posturing.
This episode will hopefully serve to give more impetus to the labor movement’s organizing efforts in Santa Clara County and to the progressive movement’s determination to repeal and replace “essential politicians.” !Viva la huelga!