Santa Monica City Council approved an ordinance this week that will require some local drug and grocery stores to pay employees an extra $5 per hour as soon as Thursday.
The city’s new Hero Pay law applies to retail grocery stores, retail drug stores, and other large stores of 85,000 square feet or more that dedicate more than 10% of their floor space to grocery or drug sales in Santa Monica and is set to become effective Thursday. However, corporations will have until April 12 to make payroll adjustments, get into compliance and provide workers with any back-pay that is owed. The ordinance does include a credit for store operators who voluntarily provide ongoing hazard pay though.
City Attorney George Cardona said employees who fear the higher wages will interfere with benefits they may already be receiving could opt to take paid leave in lieu of the pay increase.
“It does not give a credit for past payments, it’s only for current pay that is ongoing,” City Attorney George Cardona said this week while he described how the new law is very similar to the ones passed by the City of Los Angeles and Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, who were among the first to discuss an ordinance requiring a $5 increase in per hour pay for essential workers in early January.
Enforcement of the new ordinance will fall to businesses and unions, according to city staff, who said they will look to employee unions to serve as the primary source of information for grocery and drug store workers. But there will also be a complaint process and opportunity to expand enforcement through the minimum wage process if necessary.
Mayor Sue Himmelrich joked during Tuesday’s meeting the motion to approve the new law was seconded by the entire Council. On Wednesday, she said she was glad to support Hero Pay, which is all about boosting wages in light of the elevated health risks that essential employees experience every time they report to work indoors and interact with large swaths of people.
“This is a much-deserved recognition of the sacrifices these vital essential personnel have endured for the last year,” Himmelrich added.
Councilmember Kevin McKeown recognized he got a little ahead of himself Tuesday evening when he celebrated the law’s passage and stated it would take effect Wednesday since it was passed by his peers before midnight.
Instead, the law will take effect a day later than McKeown anticipated. Even so, the councilmember, who initially asked for the item to be considered by Council nearly eight weeks ago, said he is hopeful the four months of additional pay will be enough to see the end of the pandemic.
“Our local grocery and drugstore workers have been pandemic heroes for a year now, and starting Thursday that will be acknowledged with a pay bump,” McKeown said, adding, “Better late than never.”
Oscar de la Torre thanked Councilmember McKeown for bringing the ordinance forward.
“I think it’s a very, very important policy,” de la Torre said as he acknowledged companies like Trader Joe’s and others that have already provided employees with hazard pay in the wake of the pandemic. “I’m proud to vote yes on this policy.”