For grocery workers, Hero Pay is a simple matter of justice

Sometimes, something good can come out of the worst of crises.

For example, America emerged from the Great Depression and World War II with a renewed sense of purpose that found expression in the GI Bill and, ultimately, the War on Poverty and the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts.

In the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has already caused the deaths of more than half a million Americans, we’ve begun to recognize the importance of everyday heroes who risk infection, disease and even death to keep our civilization running.

These heroes include our nurses, doctors and other health workers. They include our teachers, day care providers, police and firefighters. And they include our neighbors and friends who work in the fields, grocery and drug stores, without whom we couldn’t put food on our tables or medications in our medicine cabinets.

As president of the union representing tens of thousands of grocery and retail drug employees in the Coachella Valley, the Inland Empire, San Bernardino , LA and Riverside County, I am encouraged by actions in several California cities and counties to require corporations to provide extra Hero Pay to these workers.

It’s the correct and reasonable thing to do. After all, the big retail chains have been raking in huge profits during the pandemic and the workers deserve some payback for the extra sacrifices they have endured to make those profits possible.

Unfortunately, many grocery and drug chains (Stater Bros. being a noteworthy exception until recently) have resisted the idea of restoring the Hero Pay they agreed to in the early months of the pandemic. Kroger, owner of Ralphs and Food 4 Less, went so far as to close two supermarkets in Long Beach to punish that city for requiring temporary Hero Pay.

Fearful of bad publicity, these grocers are hiding behind the aprons of the California Grocers Association, Chambers of Commerce and well-connected lobbying firms in order to subvert this reasonable step to pay clerks, checkers, baggers, stockers and pharmacy techs their due.

In the Coachella Valley and elsewhere, the only major force exclusively representing the interests of working men and women is the labor union, and our union, Local 1167 of the United Food and Commercial Workers, is determined as ever to fight for their welfare.

We are grateful to the people in and outside of local governments who are stepping forward to support our cause. When we recently went before the Coachella & Palm Springs City Councils to support a Hero Pay ordinance, we had the backing of many organizations and individuals in the community who spoke in favor of our position that Hero Pay is a good thing for the Coachella Valley.

This coalition for simple economic justice didn’t happen suddenly. It is the result of 30 years of hard work on the ground, serving and representing the workers of the Coachella Valley in the stores, at the bargaining table and in city halls across the region.

Through our advocacy we aren’t just taking care of our own union members. We speak for all workers who are struggling to join the middle class, including farm workers, food processing workers, packing shed workers, general retail workers, warehouse workers and those who serve in other industries.

We don’t speak as Democrats or Republicans. We speak on behalf of American workers — people who don’t have armies of lobbyists and lawyers to bend laws or lobby to their favor.

We operate on a simple premise: that a man or woman who goes to work every day should be paid enough to be able to raise a family in dignity without having to rely on welfare services to make a living.

Many large companies prior to COVID and currently continue to receive tax breaks and subsidies provided by the good old working class. The working class bailed them out and we continue to when “times get tough” as was the case with the mortgage, airline, and auto industries. When this happened bailouts were good for business and the economy, When a worker needs help its called welfare and people need to work harder.  This has to STOP!

It is time for all non-union employers, especially the Walmarts and Amazons of the world, to honor the people they employ instead of holding them down. It is time for all of us to help lift each other up and not be ashamed to demand that we be treated with respect on and off the job. The divide between the haves and the have nots is growing larger.

When my neighbors, family, and friends succeed, I succeed and our communities succeed. That should be all of our values.

Image Sources

  • Grocery Worker: Shutterstock