The city of Coachella, California, became the first in the United States to extend “hero pay” to farmworkers. “Hero pay” is a controversial ordinance that has been passed in some cities mandating temporary hazard pay for essential workers, like grocery store employees, who are risking their health by working during the pandemic.
On Wednesday night (Feb. 10), the Coachella City Council unanimously approved “hero pay” for frontline workers at grocery stores, retail pharmacies, restaurants, and “certain agricultural operations.” The passage of the ordinance, which immediately goes into effect for businesses that employ at least 300 people nationwide, means that farmworkers will receive an additional $4 per hour for at least the next four months.
According to the Los Angeles Times, approximately 8,000 farmworkers live in the Coachella Valley area. A study by UC San Francisco shows that agricultural workers were some of the most at-risk employees for COVID-19. “Latino food and agriculture workers were disproportionately affected, with a 59% increase in mortality,” the Times writes.
“We know that COVID has been more prominent in these agricultural communities, and if you look at the mortality rates, a lot of farmworkers have died,” Mayor Steven Hernandez told the Times. “You can see the devastation.”
While farmworkers are relieved that they will be getting extra pay, entities like the California Grocers Association have filed lawsuits against a handful of California cities for approving pay increases for essential workers.
“In addition to clearly violating federal and state law, the extra pay mandates will harm customers and workers,” Ron Fong, president and CEO of the California Grocers Association, told the East Bay Express.
Others like Catherine Fisk, University of California at Berkeley labor and employment law professor, disagree with the CGA’s assessment.
“[The] Equal Protection Clause does not prohibit a legislature from regulating wages including by deciding one group of workers are entitled to higher minimum wages than another group,” she said. “There is simply nothing illegal about deciding that a group of workers who face extra hazards should be entitled to hazard pay.”