Concord council recognizes grocery workers’ ‘invisible’ role with hazard pay

Concord council recognizes grocery workers’ ‘invisible’ role with hazard pay

Concord council recognizes grocery workers’ ‘invisible’ role with hazard pay
Shoppers waiting to check out at Safeway on Willow Pass Road in Concord.

CONCORD, CA – The City Council unanimously approved an urgency ordinance calling for $5 per hour in hazard pay for grocery store workers at large area chain operations in the city limits.

The action, which passed on March 30, targets these so-called “invisible” employees during the ongoing pandemic. The wage increase covers 120 days or until Contra Costa County reaches the Yellow Tier as set by state health orders, whichever is later.

The measure applies to workers in stores or franchisees with 300 or more employees nationwide. Thirteen stores were on a preliminary list presented to the council. Noticeably absent were Costco and Sam’s Club. Costco is regarded as a bulk distributor not defined as a grocery store under city ordinances, and Sam’s Club is in an unincorporated area of the county.

The council included a credit to companies, including Lucky, Food Maxx and Trader Joe’s, that are already paying a premium hourly rate during COVID-19.

Potential for a legal battle

Legal counsel for the city advised that Concord could face legal action by the entities that represent the grocery store community, similar to what has happened in Oakland and San Leandro.

The potential fiscal fallout could mean paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for attorney fees and far more for back pay, depending on how many employees were involved.

Such issues did not dissuade the council members, who heeded the overwhelming citizen support for the proposal expressed during a lengthy public comment period.

Councilman Edi Birsan, for one, did not pull any punches.

“This homey don’t play that game. I am not going to be threatened and bullied by corporations and their lawyers,” he said.

Birsan advocated that the council “stand for those who are not able to stand for themselves.”

He added: “We have to be able to listen to the representatives of the people, and we have to be the representatives of the people. As such, this ordinance fits in (with our duties) to our community and for the future community by setting our values forward; this is important and this is proper for us to do.”

‘Putting ourselves on the line’

Numerous representatives from across the union landscape weighed in during public comment at the virtual meeting.

“It’s important that we as leaders of the community recognize the important work that these frontline workers have been doing in the community,” Vice Mayor Dominic Aliano said, acknowledging that “invisible workers” is an apt description for these individuals.

“This being a blue-collar community, they were there in a time of need and it is important for us to support them,” he said.

Michelle Wade, who has worked in customer service for Safeway in Concord for five years, spoke of contracting the virus and unknowingly exposing her kids and pretty much every customer she encountered.

“If there is a reason for us to wear masks, that means the hazard is still there. If the hazard is there, we deserve the pay,’’ she said.

“We are putting ourselves on the line every day to help our community,” Wade added.