Opinion: Council Discussion Reveals Party Line Differences and Hypocrisy
Mayor Farrah Khan put forth an agenda item calling for “hero pay”. Had this passed with urgency – as originally intended – it would have granted the immediate requirement of large (defined as having over 20 employees), nationwide (defined as having over 800 employees nationwide) stores to grant Hero Pay to their hourly workers of $4 per hour on top of their current hourly wage, with stores such as Trader Joe’s and Costco excluded. Trader Joe’s and Costco have already implemented their own equivalent hazard pay without a legal requirement to do so.
After some discussion to ensure that small, local stores would not be affected, there was a discussion of the agenda item.
During the deliberation, it became clear that neither Councilman Anthony Kuo nor Councilman Mike Carroll would be voting in favor of this agenda item. As a result, the “urgency” was removed. This meant that instead of being immediately enacted, it would be enacted in 45 days – another month and half of pay insufficient to remunerate workers for the hazardous situation in which they have been toiling for almost a year. Another month and a half of seeing coworkers test positive for the virus, become hospitalized, and sometimes even die, with no monetary or substantive show of appreciation.
Vice Mayor Tammy Kim spoke about her support for the workers. Kim specifically mentioned minority-owned businesses who are at a disadvantage economically but may still meet the 300 employee nationwide requirement and may be impacted by having to pay the increased wages in addition to having to compete with the big box retail shops:
“Our ethnic serving markets are aggressively providing PPE and doing temperature checks and it is unfortunate that these big box chains are not doing the same thing …. It is a shame that they are not taking as good care of their employees with the amount of resources they have. I really wish some of the advocates that are talking about the retail industry business trade groups — I have not heard one of you advocate for our minority owned and ethnic serving communities. Your interests have been completely with the big box corporations. With that being said, I do support this.”
Councilmember Kuo stated that he “was trying to understand who will be affected.” Specifically, he mentioned being concerned about the Grocery Outlet in Irvine being affected. Grocery Outlet would seem to be included in the category defined as having to pay the $4 per hour extra to their employees since they have over 300 stores nationwide and the requirement of having 500 employees nationwide would then be easily met.
Councilmember Kuo was also concerned about the lawsuits by the California Grocers Association against the other cities which had enacted similar ordinances. Mayor Khan responded that “the information I have is that the federal Judge assigned to the case has already denied CGA’s request to enjoin the ordinance from going into effect.” Kuo clarified that the Judge “did not rule on the merits of the case. That is where I have a lot of discomfort… suppose this moves forward [and] we adopt this. This goes into effect immediately… suppose the court comes in and says you know what, you’re right, we have to strike this down. What happens at that point to all that pay? Does the city become liable?”
City Attorney Jeff Melching responded, “So far, the lawsuits that have been filed have all sought declaratory relief and not damages.” When Kuo asked whether our city has any immunity over this, Melching answered, “we wouldn’t have an immunity that would protect us.”
No city has yet been sued successfully for such an ordinance, yet Kuo leverages this fear to cover up for his unwillingness to support our frontline workers. As a former waitress in multiple restaurants, I am not surprised. The disregard with which many are willing to treat those who handle their food never ceases to amaze. Similarly, Councilman Mike Carroll showed more concern for potential litigation against the city than the grocery workers, adding,
“I too share my concern with regard to active litigation… we have a phrase called ‘setting up a date to litigate’ and this is clearly that. We don’t have a vaccine problem as much as we have a vaccine problem”.
While I agree that the grocery workers deserve to get vaccinated as soon as possible, they are in tier 1b and not currently able to receive vaccinations. That is not something which is under city control. However, the irony and hypocrisy of Councilman Carroll being so concerned about possible litigation that he is unwilling to stand up for our grocery workers is stark.
This is the same Councilman Mike Carroll who was fine with “spending $70,000 in taxpayer funds to distribute mailers to voters in violation of city policy months before it became public knowledge.” Voice of OC | Biesiada Further, he defended himself by stating that “he launched the letters as an effort to connect with Irvine residents during the pandemic and that he let go of his staff to fund them.” But 9 out of the 16 mailers had nothing to do with COVID-19.
So, violating city policy is fine when it personally benefits Carroll, but taking a perfectly legal action — in violation of no city policy — to support our frontline grocery workers is not. The truth is, Carroll is so dismissive of the plight of workers during this pandemic that he was willing to lay off his own staff in the midst of the pandemic in order to improve his election chances. While there is obvious hypocrisy here regarding his concerns for legal issues, at least he retains a clear and consistent callousness for those who provide him services.
Fortunately, Mayor Farrah Khan, Vice Mayor Tammy Kim, and Councilman Larry Agran voted to pass the much needed resolution. But since Councilman Kuo and Councilman Carroll did not support this ordinance, workers will have to wait 45 days to start receiving their well-deserved Hero Pay. And as we all know, a lot can happen in 45 days of this global pandemic.