December 4, 2022


Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Coachella considers ‘hero pay’ for farmworkers

The city of Coachella is considering adopting hazard pay for some retail and food workers, including those at grocery stores, restaurants and farms. The city’s mayor said the ordinance, if passed, would be the first in the nation to offer a pandemic pay bump to farmworkers.

The ordinance would require agricultural operations, grocery stores, restaurants and retail pharmacy stores within the city to provide a $4-per-hour pay boost to their workers for at least four months. The regulation would apply to businesses that employ 300 or more workers nationally, and more than 15 employees in the city. The City Council will vote on the proposal at a meeting later Wednesday.

The move comes as California’s grocery industry mounts an aggressive challenge to hazard pay ordinances, also known as “hero pay,” being introduced across the state, with executives and industry representatives saying the additional pay is unsustainable, even for large grocery chains.

The California Grocers Assn. has sued Long Beach, Oakland and Montebello for approving temporary pay boosts for grocery workers. Kroger, which owns several supermarket chains, announced earlier this month that it would shut down two stores, a Ralphs and Food 4 Less, in response to Long Beach’s hazard pay law.

Coachella’s city manager and attorney urged the council to adopt the measure, writing in a letter that the global COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized the importance of workers in essential industries. In September, Riverside County’s public health director reported that the highest number of COVID-19 outbreaks in the region between July and September were reported to stem from grocery stores, with 48 reported outbreaks, according to the letter.

Coachella Mayor Steven Hernandez said in an interview that the city would be the first in the nation to extend hazard pay to farmworkers.

A UC San Francisco study that analyzed state Department of Public Health death records found Latino food and agriculture workers were disproportionately effected by COVID-19 risk, with a 59% increase in mortality. The study looked at occupations associated with high excess mortality, or more deaths than expected, during the pandemic.

“There has to be a combination of enforcing workplace standards, protecting workers and their wages, and financial relief to make sure the lowest-wage workers are financially sustainable,” said Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, a professor of epidemiology at UC San Francisco and one of the authors of the study.