Workers at four different grocery chains in Oakland, Berkeley and Emeryville told The Oakland Post they were not receiving a risk premium related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While Oakland and Berkeley city councils each unanimously passed ordinances last February that required large grocery stores to pay workers an additional $ 5 per hour due to COVID-19 risks, both ordinances indicated that once cities reached the yellow level – this indicating a minimum of COVID-19 spread – this requirement would end.
Workers at Oakland or Berkeley-based Whole Foods, Grocery Outlet and Trader Joe’s said they received their last risk paychecks in early July, about a month after those towns hit yellow on June 8.
The Oakland Post has contacted Oakland City Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas, who wrote the emergency risk premium order for grocery store workers, to inquire about the end of the risk premium. Bas’s chief of staff, Miya Saika Chen, responded by acknowledging that since the order “relates to state directives determining a safe reopening” and Oakland has reached the yellow level, the order does not. no longer applies.
Immediately after Oakland and Berkeley reached the yellow level of COVID-19 spread, as state restrictions such as capacity limits were lifted and the Delta variant continued to spread, positive cases of viruses began to increase. A graph showing data collected by Alameda County shows that when the county entered the yellow level on June 8, the total number of cases for the previous 14 days was 455. By the end of July, that total of 14 days exceeded 4,000 cases on three consecutive days. , which was about nine times higher.
Responding to questions about ending risk premiums as cases of COVID-19 increased, Chen highlighted the impact of vaccination, as vaccines have been effective in preventing severe health effects from the virus.
“Our top priority must be to ensure that everyone has accurate vaccine information and safe and equitable access to vaccines in order to prevent another wave of infections,” she said.
Neither Bas nor any of his staff responded when asked if there was anything the board could do or consider doing to reinstate the grocery store risk premium. The Oakland Post posed the same question to Berkeley City Council member Terry Taplin, who drafted the Berkeley risk premium ordinance. He responded by saying that to restore the risk premium to grocery stores, Berkeley city council would need to pass a new ordinance.
âThe city is currently evaluating several options to meet the Delta variant,â Taplin said. “I will need to consult with the city team and the legal department to discuss what can be done around the new risk premium.”
In Oakland and Berkeley, new risk premium ordinances cannot be passed this month through city council actions, as council meetings in both cities are suspended until August. But Oakland and Berkeley city councils could reconsider the matter in September when meetings resume. Grocery store workers the Oakland Post spoke to felt they deserved a risk premium because of their hard work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“[The hazard pay] was very helpful, âsaid a Whole Foods employee in Berkeley. âIt’s so expensive to live here and I can hardly make it. I was able to save some money and not a dime when I got it.
Like all workers interviewed for this article, this worker feared reprisals from their employers for speaking to the press about their wages and asked not to be named.
Additionally, with the temperature checks suspended, the Berkeley Whole Foods worker said he does not feel safe on the job. They also claimed that in May there was an outbreak of the virus in the prepared food section of their store. Although The Oakland Post contacted Whole Foods to ask about the risk premium, temperature controls and the alleged COVID-19 outbreak, their media team did not respond.
The city of Emeryville, which borders both Oakland and Berkeley, has never required any grocery store to offer its employees a COVID-19 risk premium. A worker at a Pak ‘N Save in Emeryville, who has been working for about a year, said he was paid Emeryville’s minimum wage, which is currently $ 17.13, and has never received a bonus. risk. They said the low wages had particularly affected some of their colleagues with families. Children sometimes wait in the Pak ‘N Save break room during shifts, as rates of pay make it impossible for some grocery store workers to afford babysitting.
âThey pay us the least that they are literally allowed to pay us,â the Pak ‘N Save employee said. âA lot of people are fed up with it. A lot of people give up. “
Wendy Gutshall, spokesperson for Safeway, the company that owns and operates Pak ‘N Save, confirmed that the Emeryville store had not paid a risk premium and that the Safeway stores in Oakland and Berkeley had ceased to pay the risk premium of $ 5 after these cities reach the yellow floor. Gutshall said Safeway and Pak ‘N Save paid workers an additional $ 2 an hour as a risk bonus from March to June 13, 2020 and gave a bonus to their frontline workers last December.
Although they have not currently received a risk premium, workers at Pak ‘N Save in Emeryville have been exposed to COVID-19. E-mails This Pak ‘N Save worker shared with The Oakland Post from a regional human resources manager says that between July 21 and July 28, workers were exposed to COVID-19 three times in the store.
This same worker shared a photo of a letter the store displayed in their break room indicating that one of their co-workers recently filed a complaint with the California State Department of Industrial Relations accusing the store of putting them to work for several days after they reported experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 due to the store being understaffed.
Asked about the complaint, Gutshall said she could not speak to him directly, saying: ‘For reasons of confidentiality, we cannot provide details regarding a [workerâs] situation. âShe said that workers showing symptoms of COVID-19 are urged to return home, that the company is in close contact with these workers to investigate their contact with other workers and to ensure that they receive appropriate medical care, and that these workers can access 80 hours of quarantine wages.
Workers are required to check their temperature when they report to work at Pak ‘N Save and Safeway, according to Gutshall. The Pak ‘N Save employee interviewed by The Oakland Post said such temperature checks were optional at the store where they worked.
The Pak ‘N Save worker and the Whole Foods worker The Oakland Post interviewed said as the pandemic continued, more and more of their colleagues have resigned, leading to a escalation and increase in their workload.
âEveryone has to do a bit of everything,â the Pak ‘N Save employee said. âWe don’t have enough controllers or enough people walking around the store to help customers and clean up. Corn [Pak ââN Save] is not even willing to raise wages to meet labor needs.
âThe job is getting more and more stressful,â said the Whole Foods worker. âWe operate on a reduced crew. And now we are back to regular pay.