Risk premium for grocers still on the table

Council member Devon Reid’s proposal that employees of large grocery stores receive hazard pay was put forward in a split vote on Jan. 24.

But some Council members want to hear from the companies that would be most affected by the legislation.

Alderperson Peter Braithwaite: “I think all businesses right now, we realize… are suffering from the pandemic. I think it’s unfair to make assumptions about any industry without having this conversation. (photo round table)

“I think all of the businesses right now, we’re realizing … are suffering from the pandemic,” said council member Peter Braithwaite, who has two large grocery stores in his second ward. “I think it’s unfair to make assumptions about an industry without having this conversation.”

Council members voted 4-3 at their January 24 meeting in favor of sending Eighth Ward Councilman Devon Reid’s proposal to the city’s Economic Development Committee for further discussion and study.

Reid has scaled back his hazard pay proposal from one that did not receive Council support last June. This proposal required large retailers or franchises located in the city to pay employee bonuses for work during the pandemic.

He is now proposing hazard pay for workers at large grocery stores, saying they face a greater health risk with the rise of the omicron variant of COVID-19.

“And I think that burden shouldn’t be on the City to provide that, but I think on employers who provide essential services,” he said.

Additionally, he said, workers do not have the protection of a vaccine certification warrant, as is required for patrons of restaurants, fitness centers and other venues.

At the Jan. 24 meeting, he added another element to his proposal, suggesting that hazard pay be tied to future emergencies “that occur where our workers … put themselves at risk.”

Bobby Burns, 5th Ward, council member, suggested the city might consider establishing a minimum standard in such cases, requiring hazard pay for cases such as “when schools and other institutions tell their members: “Don’t come to this building, because it’s an emergency.

“And yet,” he said, “some of our employers are saying, ‘No, you still have to go to work, because we’ll have a bunch of people at home who still have to shop at our businesses, in particular because they are at home.

“In these circumstances,” he asked, “should we create a minimum standard that says, ‘If that happens, here’s a minimum standard of what you need to pay people on top of their hourly rates regular “?”

But Council Member Peter Braithwaite, whose Second Central Ward contains two large food stores, Valli Produce, at 1919 Dempster St., and Food 4 Less, at 2400 Main St., challenged Reid to talk to businesses who would be most affected by the hazard pay order, which some Council members argued had not happened last time either.

He said Valli and Food 4 Less “are stores that many Evanston residents across town find very affordable. And these are all well-run businesses.

“And when you talk to them individually – and I did,” he said, “they all pay a very decent salary to many of their employees, for many reasons.

“First of all, employment right now – it’s an employee market. So they have to pay a higher salary to their employees just to stay competitive; and they are constantly faced with a battle of employees who will leave anytime for an extra $1.

At the same time that employers are facing higher wages, he said, they are also facing issues with the supply chain.

“So ultimately should we adopt this – which I don’t think makes sense – to just designate this one industry, which is completely unfair?” He asked.

“At the end of the day, we will end up paying more than we are already paying. I also challenge you,” Braithwaite told Reid, “to think about the residents who shop at these stores and rely on the affordable prices to be able to support their families.

Emergency risk premium

Reid said he plans to tie his hazard pay proposal to situations such as declarations of emergency by the governor or mayor, and school closures in the area, when employees will still need to work.

In his eyes, he said the proposal could even be linked to “a terrible blizzard that hit the city for a few days, where maybe the schools were closed, but the grocers still had to go to work, and they had to find a place. daycare and [face] all the burdens… going to work to make sure people who need groceries have access to them.

He said his concern otherwise gives people the impression that “we don’t care about our low wages, our front-line workers.

“And that’s not my view of diversity,” he said. “That’s not the vision I want for our residents and workers – to look at this government and think we don’t care about them.”

Melissa Wynne, Council Member, 3rd District, joined Braithwaite in raising concerns about not hearing the views of affected businesses on the proposal.

“We consider all stakeholders when making decisions like this,” she said, “and I don’t think they’ve had a chance to come forward and have a discussion. with us.”

She was also not in favor of the proposal to link the risk premium to future circumstances.

“I don’t think that’s a good policy,” she said. “This risk premium is carefully adapted to the specificities of this emergency situation. And I don’t know how we would determine what the next danger would be.

For example, she said, “Blizzards are bad. But what is a bad blizzard? You know that near the edge of the lake we may have four feet of snow, while at the Edens there may be six or eight inches.

“I think we’re trying to predict the future in a way that casts the net, way too wide,” she said.

Councilman Reid’s proposal to refer the matter to the city’s economic development committee passed by a 4-3 vote.

Council members Clare Kelly, 1st Ward, voted to explore the proposal further; Jonathan Nieuwsma, 4th Ward; Burns and Reid.

Council members Braithwaite and Wynne, along with Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, voted against.

Council members Thomas Suffredin, 6th Arrondissement and Cicely Fleming, 9th Arrondissement, did not vote on the matter.

About Florence L. Silvia

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