By Haley Sawyer
South Pasadena Review
The City Council continued to show support for essential workers by unanimously passing an urgency ordinance last week that mandates a $3 hourly raise for grocery and drug retail workers in South Pasadena.
The premium pay, dubbed “hero pay,” will last 60 days and took effect immediately after the ordinance was passed at the Wednesday, April 21, meeting. After 45 days, the council plans to revisit the ordinance to determine if it should be extended.
“This is something we have as stewards of our society, of our ethics, just to have a compassionate heart,” said Mayor Pro Tem Michael Cacciotti.
Now that the hero pay ordinance has passed, there is a chance that the city could face litigation from the California Grocers Association. The organization has filed a lawsuit against the city of Long Beach, which was the first to approve hero pay, as well as others like Irvine and West Hollywood.
Long Beach and Irvine each required $4-per-hour hero pay, while West Hollywood opted for $5. In all three cities, the hero pay was set to last 120 days.
“I fully support the hero pay. I participated in the hero pay rally,” said Councilwoman Evelyn Zneimer. “However, although I support hero pay, I’m not going to be the ostrich that buries its head in the sand that this information is out there for the public to know — that 27 cities are faced with litigation by CGA…and grocery lobbyists.
“But we stand by you as your representatives and your elected officials and say that it is our moral obligation to support our grocery workers and pharmacy workers during this pandemic,” she added.
Zneimer also noted that Kroger had closed grocery stores in Long Beach and Los Angeles, but the stores were low-performing and were scheduled to be closed regardless of hero pay implications, per their companies.
Nearly 20 South Pasadena residents left pre-recorded public comments at the council meeting in support of hero pay, something that Montebello, El Monte, Los Angeles — the city and county — and Glendale also have enacted.
The subject of hero pay was first introduced at the council’s April 7 meeting, when the council asked for the emergency ordinance to be prepared for the April 21 meeting.
Part of the reasoning for enacting hero pay was that since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, grocery workers have faced unprecedented challenges and health hazards that were obviously not part of the job before.
Considered essential workers, grocery and drugstore employees were exposed to the virus more regularly than those who could work from home, as reflected in morbidity statistics indicating they have died at higher rates from the disease than other workers.
To date, South Pasadena has had 1,313 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 39 deaths.
“This is a different job,” Cacciotti said. “This is not like any of our other jobs. They’re in one little location where hundreds of people come by every single day and they’re stuck. And there’s very poor ventilation.
“This thing is dangerous,” he added, “and we’ve let our guard down, I’m sorry to say.”