Beware Consequences of Hazard Pay

On the same day the Santa Barbara City Council voted to draft an emergency grocery hazard pay ordinance, Santa Barbara County also progressed into the Orange Tier of COVID-19 reopening.

News reports that day covered area wineries preparing for tourists to return the following weekend. Likewise, gyms, restaurants, and churches expected an increase in visitors. Despite these positive developments, council members simultaneously argued the situation facing grocery stores, counterintuitively, required urgent action on hazard pay.

But, this isn’t to argue with the idea things are improving. In fact, Santa Barbara’s grocery community shares the public’s reasons for optimism. Gov. Gavin Newsom has set June 15 as a target date for a full economic reopening. And this very paper reported 52 percent of county residents have received at least one vaccine dose.

As a member of the state’s vaccine taskforce, I argued for essential grocery workers to be a vaccine rollout priority. Grocers also spent millions in California providing bonuses and extra time off to grocery workers and on PPE to keep workers and the public safe in our stores.

Instead of making essential grocery workers safer, the hazard pay in Santa Barbara will result in unintended consequences. Grocery prices are already increasing because of higher supply costs from manufacturers. Inflation is also a concern from economists. Grocers will have no choice but to charge higher prices. Higher grocery prices are not what we need right now while we all work to rebuild and reopen the economy.

Ron Fong is president and CEO of the California Grocers Association.

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