Written by Scott Miller
A year ago, the world was in panic. Life came to a screeching halt as we discovered a new virus that would soon be the reason to shut down everything from schools and playgrounds to restaurants and nail salons.
Now, just over a year later, we’re learning how to confront COVID-19 head on while keeping our community safe.
In California, we are leading the nation and the world in administering vaccinations, our daily case rates are rapidly declining and we have one of the lowest positivity rates in the country.
Here in Fresno County, we are inching closer to California’s red tier goal of 10 new cases a day. We’ve received additional vaccines from the state and are making progress at vaccinating our most vulnerable community members.
At the same time, businesses in Fresno and throughout the state have endured multiple shutdowns, invested in safety measures and provided personal protective equipment to their employees in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.
But just as we are beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel, the Fresno City Council is considering an ordinance that would impede our economic recovery, destroy jobs, increase our cost of living and hurt our community.
In early March, Fresno City Council President Luis Chavez proposed an ordinance mandating $3 an hour in premium pay on top of regular wages for some workers — but not all — who continued to work in-person during the pandemic. The vote on the ordinance was delayed until April 8. This short-sighted government mandate is estimated to affect 65 stores in Fresno, putting hundreds of jobs at risk when families are already struggling just to get by.
Let me be clear: The issue for us is not whether essential workers deserve excellent pay — they certainly do. Our belief is that city government is the wrong place to legislate wage and employment matters and that ALL levels of government should apply rules equitably, not create a patchwork of laws that will put the businesses in our city at a disadvantage to our neighbors.
Forcing retailers to increase their operating costs by as much as 30% — when many have already voluntarily increased pay for their workers during the pandemic, including Trader Joes and SaveMart — will leave them with unpleasant options:
- — Keep their doors open but increase prices for consumers
- — Switch to automated check outs, cut employee hours or even lay off employees
- — Close unprofitable stores and hurt the surrounding community
Sadly, these consequences are a reality for cities across the state that chose to enact this counterproductive policy.
In Los Angeles and Long Beach, after both cities passed a similar premium pay mandate, five grocery stores immediately announced their closure — resulting in the destruction of hundreds of jobs and worsening California’s unemployment crisis, which is the second highest in the nation. The closures are also hurting the surrounding community who depended on those stores for fresh, local healthy food options.
And a study by the California Grocers Association found that premium pay mandates will add about $400 to the cost of food and household supplies for the typical family of four. That’s a lot of money for Fresnans, who are already dealing with a 10.8% increase in rent over the last year and severe lack of affordable housing.
At the Fresno Chamber, we pride ourselves on our moderate positions and ability to work with diverse stakeholders for the betterment of our community. From our point of view, this premium pay mandate will destroy jobs, raise the cost of living and hurt our community. Now is not the time to jeopardize economic recovery and put more families out of work.
Instead, our city council representatives should be focused on quickly administering vaccinations to keep everyone safe, ensuring a rapid economic recovery and a return to normalcy.
On April 8, I encourage you to make your voice heard at the Fresno city council hearing and urge a “no” vote on the premium pay mandate that is counterproductive for workers, consumers and our community.
Scott Miller is the president and CEO of the Fresno Chamber of Commerce.