Downey delays action on ‘hero pay’ for local employees

By Arnold Adler

Contributing Writer

DOWNEY — A proposal to require owners of large stores and pharmacies to provide “hero pay” bonuses of $4 an hour to employees for working during the COVID-19 pandemic is in limbo and probably dead, following City Council action May 25 to postpone a decision with no date for reconsideration.

The proposal, by Councilwoman Catherine Alvarez, was an emergency ordinance to require the bonuses by stores with 15 or more employees through June and July.

The postponement vote was 3-2 with Councilmen Sean Ashton and Mario Trujillo joining Alvarez to keep the issue alive. Mayor Claudia M. Frometa and Mayor Pro Tem Blanca Pacheco voted no.

Frometa said she and Pacheco wanted to settle the issue with a vote, which would have meant defeat as an emergency ordinance requires four votes.

She told a reporter that with protests from the California Grocers’ Association and the COVID crisis decreasing, she and Pacheco didn’t see a need for the action, which might have required bargaining with labor unions and the grocer’s group or going to court.

“This matter will not go any further,” Frometa predicted.

She noted that COVID cases are decreasing and vaccinations are increasing.

“In Downey, 62% of residents age 16 and older have received the vaccinations. That includes 85% of residents age 65 and older,” she said.

Frometa added that Downey tentatively plans to resume in-person City Council meetings, open to the public, June 22 based on state and county health regulations at that time.

City Attorney Yvette M. Abich Garcia, who drew up the proposed ordinance, said staff could not immediately determine the financial effect the ordinance would have on businesses.

That was a major discussion topic May 25, a city clerk spokesperson said.

Affected stores would include the 15 employee minimum and those with 300 or more nationally. It would include stores that devote 70% of store area to food product displays and which receive 70% of revenue from food products.

Affected pharmacies would be those which sell a variety of prescription and non-prescription medicines plus miscellaneous items, Garcia said.

In a report to the council, Garcia said the ordinance would apply to 10 grocery stores, Walmart and six pharmacies.

She noted that an organization called La Amapola (The Market) has protested the Downey ordinance and added that the California Grocers Association has filed lawsuits against cities that have approved similar Hero Pay ordinances.

Those suits, against the cities of Long Beach, West Hollywood, Oakland, Irvine, Santa Ana, Montebello, San Leandro, San Jose and Daily City, are pending in court, Garcia said.

She noted that Kroger, citing financial hardship, has closed two stores in Long Beach and three in Los Angeles because of the Hero Pay requirements

Other governmental bodies which have approved Hero Pay ordinances include Los Angeles County, affecting unincorporated areas, the City of Los Angeles, Pomona, Santa Monica, Costa Mesa, El Monte, Alhambra, South Pasadena, Buena Park and Calabasas, where such a law is pending, Garcia said in her report.

Cities voting against Hero Pay initiatives include Anaheim, Pasadena and Tustin, she noted

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