The San Jose City Council is scheduled to cast their votes on Tuesday for a proposal that would require large corporate grocery stores, chain supermarkets, and retail stores that sell food products to increase their employee’s salaries by $5 per hour.

Additionally, Oakland city leaders are discussing a similar proposal. Councilman Sergio Jimenez was the one that put forth the ordinance, which, if it passes, would be implemented immediately and expire once the health order within the county was removed.

Increased Worker Pay

“Alongside doctors and nurses, retail food workers have served the residents of San Jose while taking on tremendous risks,” said Jimenez.

The Occupational and Environmental Medicine journal conducted a study that observed retail workers, including grocery store employees, five times more likely to contract the deadly COVID-19 virus.

“Hazard pay is necessary to justly compensate retail food workers for the clear and present dangers of doing their jobs during the pandemic, ensure the welfare of workers, and continue stable operation of our much-needed food supply chain,” said Jimenez.

However, the proposal only seeks to require food suppliers with at least 300 employees to provide additional pay to their staff. Jimenez noted they did not want to further burden small businesses such as small corner stores, mom and pop shops, or other small ethnic supermarkets that have been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The proposal also benefits those who have voluntarily increased employee pay in the early days of the health crisis. The proposal would only require those stores to increase their staff’s pay a total of $5, including their own salary raise. For example, if management decided to add $2 per hour to an employee’s pay, they would only need to add a further $3 to complete the proposal’s $5 requirement.

After losing his job when the coronavirus hit, 53-year-old San Jose resident Erik Larsen found work with Lucky’s Supermarkets. He said that the proposal’s additional pay requirement was a crucial benefit to those facing the threat of the COVID-19 virus.

“I put myself in harm’s way. It’s really only a matter time that I’m exposed to COVID. Do I deserve more while big corporations are making money hand over fist on the back of my labor? Yes, I do,” Larsen said.

Larsen argued that many shoppers ignored the health regulations and safety protocols while doing their rounds at stores, putting employees at greater risk. He said there had been many times that workers just disappeared from their posts while management stayed quiet. “I realized this was no joke,” Larsen said.

Four out of five council members expressed their support for the proposal when it was first introduced at a Rules and Open Government Committee last week. The one that disagreed, Dev Davis, worried that employers would be forced to increase the cost of their products to compensate for the increased worker pay.

Necessary Benefits

However, those who supported the proposal argued that the increased pay was necessary to help workers who were struggling financially due to the coronavirus pandemic. Last week, during the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors meeting, supervisors proposed a similar idea.

Officials drafted a “Hero Pay” ordinance that would provide an additional $5 per hour pay raised to some essential workers. The pay raise would be in effect for 180 days and require grocery/retail stores that have at least 300 employees across the United States to provide additional salaries, NBC Bay Area reported.

Authorities voted four to one in favor of passing the proposal, with Mike Wasserman the only one voting against the idea. His disagreement comes from his ties to McDonald’s Corp., which, due to the requirement of the proposal, would be severely impacted financially.

During their February 23 meeting, supervisors would be able to see a draft of the “Hero Pay” ordinance.

San Jose officials could approve the increased salary as early as Tuesday.

“Let us remember that those workers who put their lives on the line to provide us with food and services do so out of need to care for themselves and their families. This is our opportunity to demonstrate to them that we acknowledge their contributions, respect and appreciate their courage, and most importantly, value their worth,” said Jimenez.