California City Mandates $4/Hour 'Hero Pay' Hike For Grocery, Restaurant and Farm Workers As Businesses Struggle

Brittany M. Hughes | February 11, 2021

The California city of Coachella is now mandating that all grocery stores, restaurants, retail pharmacies and farms with 300 employees or more implement a $4-an-hour “hero pay” bump for all their workers.

Yep - rather than simply allowing retail establishments to open up for customers and return to business as usual, the city is instead mandating that stores and restaurants remain open at limited capacity only, even while forcing them to pay their workers even more money despite nearly a years' worth of decreased - or outright lost - revenue.

Following a unanimous vote, the Coachella City Council boasted that their measure is the first in the nation to include farm workers in their hazard pay mandate, which supposedly rewards the “heroes” who’re working on the front lines during the COVID pandemic and compensates them for the health risk they're taking by continuing to work. City officials say the move will also help employees stay home when they're sick instead of having to come into work for fear of losing money. 

The measure, which goes into effect immediately and extends through the next four months, applies to all businesses that both employ 300 or more people nationally, and employ at least five people in the city itself.

But what might sound like good news for employees is bad news for their employers, many of whom are already mounting legal challenges to the mandate on the grounds that it's unsustainable, especially for businesses already hit hard by the COVID pandemic. Even large grocery store and restaurant chains say they can’t support large pay hikes, with the California Grocers Association having already sued the cities of Long Beach, Oakland and Montebello for implementing similar "hazard pay" measures.

And what’s bad for employers ends up being even worse for their employees. Many have already cut back on offering overtime hours due to revenue losses, an effect that will only be exacerbated once they're required to up their regular hourly wages. The LA Times notes that the superstore chain Kroger recently announced that it would be shutting down two stores thanks to Long Beach’s hazard pay law, saying it simply can’t afford the increase.