Hazard pay for grocery store workers could be gaining momentum in Bay Area

On Tuesday, the City of Oakland became the first in the Bay Area to mandate hazard pay for many grocery store workers. The vote was unanimous and it means an extra five dollars per hour during the pandemic. The idea is gaining momentum with more cities possibly following suit.

San Jose city leaders debated the same issue Tuesday night. San Francisco and Berkeley have voiced support. Leaders in Oakland called it a no-brainer.

"As grocery store workers, as food workers, we didn’t sign up for an at risk job," said Safeway Food Clerk Tamara Perine.

Perine is a food clerk for Safeway in Oakland for 29 years. The 51-year-old mother is now entitled to an extra five dollars per hour, thanks to a city ordinance she calls long overdue.

"We are on the frontlines," said Perine. "We are at risk during this pandemic. It’s going to another level and we aren’t slowing down."

City leaders passed the emergency ordinance on Tuesday joining other cities that have considered similar legislation.

"Los Angeles passed it 15-0, in Seattle it was passed unanimously," said Councilwoman Nikki Fortunato Bas.

The councilwoman introduced the ordinance calling their line of work dangerous, getting paid on average $18 an hour.

"They are working indoors with large numbers of people and this is a situation where they are the lower paid service sector workers yet the national retail chains are making enormous profits during Covid," said Bas.

"Healthcare workers are treating exposed patients that come in but the grocery store workers some of them could see two or 300 customers a day," said John Nunes, United Food & Commercial Workers Local 5.

The ordinance affects grocery stores that employ 500 or more workers nationally. Stores like Cardenas Markets, Lucky, Safeway, Sprouts, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. An estimated 2,000 grocery workers in Oakland would be included.

"We think these types of ordinances are illegal," said Nate Rose of the California Grocers Association. "We think there’s constitutional issues especially when you are signally one particular industry."

The California Grocers Association plans to fight the ordinance. The association said the mandate amounts to a 28 percent increase in labor costs and could trickle down to the consumer. The association estimates an extra $400 a year for groceries for a family of four.

Shoppers said they’d be willing to pay more.

"I think these companies should cut into their profits a little bit more instead of passing them onto consumers," said Alexandra Early of Oakland.

"I get to work at home and they don’t so I appreciate it," said Santa Lewis of Oakland.

The ordinance goes in effect immediately and lasts until the city of Oakland reaches the least restrictive yellow tier.