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Food 4 Less: Hazard pay won’t make workers safer

Vaccinations are the solution, the company says.

The Food 4 Less store on Main Street in Evanston. (Google Maps)

In a letter to Evanston aldermen, a spokesman for the Food 4 Less grocery chain says vaccination, not the hazard pay proposed by Ald. Devon Reid (8th), is the way to assure the health of supermarket workers.

And, Vanessa Rosales, director of corporate affairs for Food 4 Less, says the chain is offering a $100 payment to workers who get vaccinated.

As of last Monday, the city reported that 56% of Evanston residents 12-64 were fully vaccinated along with 96% of those 65 and over.

The City Council Monday is scheduled to discuss Reid’s proposal to require hazard pay for grocery workers until the state enters Phase 5 of Gov. Pritzker’s coronavirus mitigation plan.

Reid’s plan would also make the hazard pay requirement retroactive to 15 weeks before the adoption of the ordinance.

It calls for a $6 per hour pay bump if the area is in Phase 1 through 3 of Pritzker’s plan, and a $3.50 an hour increase during Phase 4.

Suburban Cook County has been in Phase 4 since Feb. 2, or nearly 16 weeks ago as of today, and current expectations are that it will enter Phase 5 by the middle of June.

If Reid’s plan is approved for introduction Monday, and is given final approval at the next schedule meeting on June 14, that would likely mean it would only have retroactive impact, and only at the $3.50 an hour level.

Rosales says Food 4 Less and its parent, Kroger, have given all frontline associates since the start of the pandemic “a series of rewards in the form of one-time cash payments, temporary hourly wage increases and store credits.”

She also says measures to keep workers and customers safe greatly increased the cost of doing business last year, and that the firm invested “$2.5 billion to both reward our associates and strengthen pensions, while also implementing dozens of safety measures for the protection of our associates and customers.”

She says the company is committed to long-term wage increases, but is opposed “to mandated increases that apply to some, but not all frontline workers and not all companies that employ frontline workers.

As drafted, Reid’s ordinance would apply to supermarket workers but not those at drug stores or big box stores, and it would apply only to businesses with more than 500 employees nationwide.

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