City OKs Ordinance Raising Some Store Workers’ Pay

Following weeks of intense disagreement among City Council members, the group approved an ordinance increasing pay for Burbank grocery and drugstore workers on Tuesday.

The hazard pay ordinance, sometimes referred to as “hero pay,” directs affected stores to increase employees’ wages by $5 an hour starting June 18 and will last for 60 days unless terminated early or extended. It will affect workers of large businesses, defined as stores that have more than 10 employees and are either publicly traded or report having more than 300 employees nationwide.

Also included in that definition are stores with more than 85,000 square feet of space that dedicate a tenth of their sales floors to food or drug retail. City staff members estimate that about 20 local stores will fall under the ordinance.

Businesses that are currently providing some form of extra pay to their workers due to the coronavirus pandemic will have that counted toward the $5 mandate.

Burbank’s adoption of the ordinance is relatively late, with most cities that enacted similar measures — including Glendale, Long Beach and Los Angeles — having done so in February or March. Councilman Konstantine Anthony requested in February that city staff members research the idea, but when they returned with more information in April, the council was divided over whether to pursue an ordinance.

Because it didn’t receive the necessary four approving votes, the initiative failed to pass as an urgency ordinance, which would have allowed it to go into effect immediately in early May when it was first approved.

Anthony, Vice Mayor Jess Talamantes and Councilman Nick Schultz supported starting hazard pay, saying that it would provide compensation for Burbank workers who have faced frequent contact with the public — including some who refused to wear face coverings.

But Mayor Bob Frutos and Councilwoman Sharon Springer disagreed, arguing that it was unfair to single out grocery and drugstore workers, that the ordinance would cause price increases and layoffs and that the municipal government shouldn’t be involved with matters between a business and its workers.

Large grocery companies, as well as advocacy group California Grocers Association, have made similar points. Ryan Allain, manager of state and local government affairs with the California Grocers Association, also tried to persuade council members on Tuesday not to support the ordinance, noting that vaccinations were widely available and Gov. Gavin Newsom was expected to reopen the state economy on June 15.

“The very premise that this premium pay ordinance is based on has changed for the better,” Allain said during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Opponents of the ordinance have also worried that passing it would invite lawsuits similar to the one Long Beach has faced since enacting hazard pay. City Attorney Amy Albano has told council members that the courts have favored the municipality so far, though the lawsuit is ongoing.

The City Council has also received at least 150 messages from members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770 supporting the ordinance. The union has emphasized the risk food and grocery workers have faced during the pandemic, saying that many local employees are also Burbank residents.

Union representative Jackie Gitmed, who has frequently advocated for the ordinance’s passage, praised the City Council’s decision.

“Of course, in a perfect world, I wish they had done it sooner,” she said. “But I’m very grateful that they had the courage to pass this ordinance.

Ultimately, the City Council voted on Tuesday along the same lines it had during previous votes: 3-2, with Frutos and Springer dissenting.