Business · Fresno

Grocery workers’ hazard pay proposal set to take center stage for Fresno City Council

Fresno City Council is set to vote on a hazard pay ordinance Thursday that would see grocery store workers get a pay bump for the next several months – but is coming under attack as the coronavirus pandemic recedes.

Council President Luis Chavez introduced the proposal at the March 4 meeting but decided to postpone a vote to only hold a discussion. 

Under Chavez’s proposal, grocery stores would be required to give employees a $3 raise for 120 days or permanently provide workers with a basic level of healthcare. 

“I’m an unapologetic capitalist, but I’m also not a crony capitalist. I want to make sure that if we’re going to be pro-business, that we’re pro-employee. And we know that those are not mutually exclusive. They go hand-in-hand. And to me this is a step in that right direction of recognizing that and really changing the narrative,” Chavez said during the March 4 meeting. 

“Because somewhere along the way as a country I think we became a lot more empathetic to corporations and needs and a lot more Darwinistic. And we need to bring that balance back. When companies do well, we want that, we should celebrate it. Employees should also do well.”

But the proposal was not without its initial detractors.

Council member Garry Bredefeld voiced his opposition, and Mayor Jerry Dyer said he does not think it is the city’s role to make a mandate of the private sector like this. 

In the month since it was introduced, outside groups have also reached out to the council in opposition. 

A coalition called Californians for a Safe and Rapid Recovery submitted 175 letters from Fresno residents to the council opposing hazard pay. 

The form letter reads as follows: 

“We are making significant strides in keeping our communities safe from COVID-19 while also safely reopening the economy. Health experts have said that the end of the pandemic is in sight, and in California we are leading the nation and world in vaccinations. 

“Now is not the time to jeopardize economic recovery and put more families out of work by enacting premium pay mandates that will destroy jobs, raise the cost of living and hurt our communities. 

“Local governments should be focussed on quickly administering vaccinations to keep everyone safe, ensuring a rapid recovery and a return to normalcy. Don’t play politics with our jobs.” 

Local coalition members include the Fresno Chamber of Commerce, the Fresno County Farm Bureau and the Central Valley Business Federation. 

Rachel Michelin, the President of the California Retailers Association, also sent a letter to the council voicing her concerns about the proposal. 

Michelin pointed to a study from the California Grocers Association that found that a statewide hazard pay mandate could lead to 66,000 employees being let go. 

Those results have already appeared throughout the state: Five grocery stores have closed in cities that have enacted hazard pay. 

The study also found that a family of four would see its annual grocery expenses rise by $400. 

“Premium pay mandates put local governments in the middle of employer and labor bargaining processes,” Michelin wrote. “Rather, local governments should be focusing on quickly administering vaccinations to keep everyone safe, while ensuring a rapid economic recovery.”

Daniel Gligich
Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.