California Grocers Association sues San Jose and Daly City for giving workers hazard pay

FILE - A grocery store worker loads peppers in the produce dept at the grocery store.

The California Grocers Association is suing the cities of San Jose and Daly City over hazard pay ordinances for grocery workers during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The lawsuits filed on Friday call the extra pay mandates in each city "illegal."

Last month San Jose mandated a $3 an hour pay boost for its grocery workers and in Daly City a similar ordinance was passed unanimously this week by the city council to boost workers' pay $5 an hour.  

Ron Fong, president and CEO of the California Grocers Association, said the extra pay ordinances violate federal and state law. In addition he said customers and workers will be hurt. 

CGA refers to an economic impact study done for the CGA by Capitol Matrix Consulting that says $5 an hour pay increases could raise grocery prices $400 annually for a family of four. 

The grocers association also indicates concern over increasing labor costs. They argue that in order to offset increased spending that grocery stores would have to cut workers’ hours. 

With grocery workers at the frontlines of the pandemic for the last year, many have said the recent wave of wage increases have come too late.

San Francisco just passed its hazard pay ordinance earlier this week, joining cities like Oakland, and Berkeley. Grocery workers have endured repeated exposure during the pandemic, oftentimes under stressful circumstances with the politicization of mask wearing in public spaces. 

Grocery store workers are currently eligible in the State of California to receive the three vaccines available (Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson) through federal emergency approval. 

CGA said they’ve filed cases in Long Beach, Montebello, Oakland, San Leandro and West Hollywood where they allege similar violations as in their San Jose and Daly City lawsuits. 

CGA alleges grocery stores are being singled out in violation of the U.S. Constitution and the California Constitution’s Equal Protection Clauses, which require similarly situated people to be treated alike.

They additionally claim the hazard pay ordinances are preempted by the federal National Labor Relations Act, which protects the integrity of the collective-bargaining process.

The hazard pay ordinances are not meant to affect small mom and pop stores. 

In Daly City, the rule applies to stores that are at least 10,000 square feet and which employ at least 500 employees nationwide. The hazard pay ordinance expires 120 days after adoption in order to give workers enough time to get vaccinated. Under the ordinance, covered employees are also allowed four hours of paid leave to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.  

Daly City Mayor Juslyn Manalo said the ordinance was important as workers do not have the opportunity to work from home and risk their lives to show up to work.

"Grocery and drug store workers are our local heroes and have helped keep our food and pharmaceutical supply chains intact during the entire pandemic," Manalo said in a statement.

San Jose’s ordinance applies to grocery stores with 300 or more employees nationwide and requires them to offer the pay bump for 120 days. 

Last month, supporters of the hazard pay ordinance, United Food and Commercial Workers Union, said many grocery workers have contracted the virus and that 137 grocery workers nationwide have died from COVID-19, but that number could be higher because they only tally unionized workers. 

UFCW Local-5 said for grocers such as The Save Mart Companies, which operates the Lucky, Save Mart and FoodMaxx stores; that a unionized supermarket chain has continued its hazard pay, which ranges from $2.50 to $3.50 an hour, since the beginning of the pandemic. 

Bay City News contributed to this story.