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COVID: San Jose, Oakland Officials To Consider Pandemic Hazard Pay For Grocery Workers

SAN JOSE (CBS SF) -- Grocery workers in Oakland and San Jose could soon earn hazard or "hero" pay for their work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I've talked to grocery store workers, they're scared because there's a new strain of COVID and because the cases continue to rise," said Oakland City Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas.

Bas is backing the proposal in Oakland, which would impact establishments with at least 500 employees, if passed. In San Jose, council member Sergio Jimenez is behind a similar proposal that would affect grocery retailers with at least 300 employees. Both Jimenez and Bas are proposing an extra $5 an hour for grocery workers.

"They're risking their lives to serve us," said Bas. "Hazard pay would make a huge difference so if that if they get sick or a loved one gets sick they have a little bit of extra money to pay the bills."

If approved, both ordinances would get into effect immediately, and would end when the health directives are lifted. The topic is up for discussion on Tuesday for Oakland and San Jose city councils.

Bas emphasized her proposal would not affect smaller businesses, and is targeted at larger companies that have seen their profits skyrocket in the pandemic while other industries have suffered.

"The numbers don't lie, they're making a lot of profit," said Liz Ortega-Toro of the Alameda Labor Council. "It goes beyond 'thank you.' 'Thank you' is not going to feed these grocery workers."

She said the council represents hundreds of grocery workers in Oakland who work for retail chains that she believes can afford to pony up the extra cash.

"I say look at their profits and look at their slogan of 'we're in this together,'" Ortega-Toro said. "So let's really be in this together."

Bas and Ortego-Toro said grocery workers have put their health, as well as the health of their households, at risk.

In a video obtained by KPIX from a Whole Foods employee, two women are seen shopping and talking without masks. The employee, who wanted to remain anonymous, said the women refused to wear any protective facial coverings.

Bas said hazard pay for grocery workers, who have never had the luxury of working from home, is long overdue.

"(It) would bring them a lot of peace of mind in order to continue working and make sure that you and I can get the food and supplies that we need," said Bas.

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