Extend or End ‘Hero Pay’? Council Debates Issue

“We don’t know what’s going to happen, what the results of Memorial Day weekend are going to be,” said Councilman Jack Donovan, referring to the possibility of a COVID-19 surge that would extend the hazards faced by workers. “No one can predict that. We can still get an ordinance in effect shortly after the end of the month, shortly into July, so I don’t feel there’s a need to do it preemptively at this time.”
If the council takes no further action, the ordinance will expire on June 20. The state of California plans to remove most of its masking, distancing and capacity restrictions on Tuesday, June 15, but counties and cities will still be able to set their own regulations. Los Angeles County plans to align with state restrictions on June 15.
The original ordinance, as an emergency measure, immediately took effect after it was unanimously passed on April 21. It mandated a premium, or “hero pay,” in the form of a $3 hourly raise, and the city intended to revisit the ordinance after 45 days.
Other cities, such as Long Beach, Irvine and West Hollywood, were met with litigation from the California Grocers Association as a result of enacting hero pay. South Pasadena has not seen the same resistance.
The council noted that it had received a letter from Trader Joe’s management, but did not disclose any information from the letter. Trader Joe’s had voluntarily given its employees such raises before the city enacted the ordinance.
Councilwoman Evelyn Zneimer expressed support for essential employees and concern for their mental health amid emotional stress caused by the pandemic.
“We don’t know if there’s another surge,” she said. “I know that there’s a reopening across the board on June 15, but I’m just cautious that the employees are not really protected health-wise. Their mental conditions, they really need help, and this has not been addressed by the employers.”
Councilman Jon Primuth said that he does not support renewing the ordinance and that waiting to make a decision could cause difficulties for businesses and employee pay.
“These businesses have to plan their payroll,” he said, “and not knowing until the 16th whether or not it’s going to be a really expensive payroll for the rest of the month is kind of an extra burden on business that could really make it disruptive.
“If this was a small-business context,” he added, “I don’t think we would be hesitating to give our small businesses a consideration of being able to plan.”