The Whole Foods store on Green Bay Road in Evanston. (Google Maps)

Amid concerns about whether its retroactivity provision would hold up in court, Evanston’s City Council Monday night approved for introduction a hazard pay plan for grocery workers.

Corporation Counsel Nicholas Cummings conceded, in response to a question from Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd), that one court in California has thrown out a municipal hazard pay ordinance, saying the retroactivity provision was illegal. But Cummings said the issue has not yet been litigated in Illinois.

Wynne said she’s been told that several supermarket chains that would be affected by the ordinance have been voluntarily providing hazard pay or bonuses to their workers during the COVID pandemic.

She noted that Evanston is only a small portion of the Chicago metro area said, “if we impose this extra cost on Evanston businesses, we put them at a disadvantage.”

“We worked so hard to bring Valle and Target in,” Wynne added. “We can’t keep bashing them. We need to continue to have them here in Evanston. We can’t survive on just small mom and pop businesses.”

Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd) questioned whether the measure “was taking care of Evanston residents or sending money out of town.”

“If larger stores start to close, it erodes our commercial tax base,” Braithwaite added. “With recovery coming — COVID cases down, vaccinations up — I can’t support this.”

But Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) claimed some grocers “have seen record profits” during the pandemic and should be able to provide hazard pay.

Ald. Devon Reid (8th), who had referred the hazard pay plan to the Council for consideration, said he hoped to have meetings with interested parties before the the next City Council meeting, June 14, at which the measure would be scheduled for adoption.

Voting against introduction were Braithwaite, Wynne and Ald. Cicely Fleming (9th). Fleming said she believed the city should offer hazard pay to its own workers before imposing the requirement on private businesses.

Alds. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th), Tom Suffredin (6th), and Eleanor Revelle (7th) voted to introduce the measure for discussion but said they were inclined, so far, to vote against adopting it.

The ordinance would apply to grocery retailers, including franchise operations, that have 500 or more employees nationwide. It appears that would include the Evanston outlets of ALDI, Food 4 Less, Gordon Food Service, Jewel, 7-Eleven, Trader Joe’s, Valli and Whole Foods.

Food retailers that have substantial non-food sales — like Sam’s Club and Target — may escape coverage by the ordinance. Drug stores and other retail operations considered essential under the state’s pandemic rules are excluded from the city hazard pay proposal.

As the ordinance is drafted, and if the state’s progress toward easing pandemic restrictions continues, it appears the proposed 15-weeks of retroactive hazard pay at $3.50 per hour might be the only benefit grocery workers would see from the ordinance.

Related stories

Food 4 Less: Hazard pay won’t make workers safer (5/23/21)

Reid demands hazard pay for some retail workers (5/11/21)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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