Ald. Devon Reid (8th) proposed Monday that the Evanston force employers to provide $4 or $5 an hour in pandemic hazard pay to some retail workers.

Reid said he’s designed his proposal to apply only to businesses with more than 500 employees, so it would affect Target, Whole Foods and other national firms that he said have been earning massive profits during the pandemic.

From his description, it appeared that employees of independently-owned restaurants and retail shops would not benefit from the proposal. It was not clear whether the proposal would cover employees of franchise businesses, like McDonald’s.

Reid offered his proposal the same day city officials released data showing that 54% of Evanston residents 16-and-over are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19. That’s up from 46% a week ago.

Hazard pay for front-line workers became a popular concept last year, before vaccinations were available to dramatically reduce the risk of severe illness or death that workers faced when interacting with customers on the job.

On Feb. 23, the Berkeley, California, City Council adopted an ordinance providing $5 an hour in hazard pay for grocery workers at companies with 300 or more employees. The ordinance was to remain in effect for 120 days or until Alameda County entered the yellow, or “minimal,” tier in the state’s COVID-19 risk assessment scale. As of last Tuesday, the county was in the orange, or “moderate” risk tier.

Illinois is scheduled to move into a bridge phase this Friday, leading to a full reopening in mid-June.

Reid’s proposal drew concern from some council members, including Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd), who said there was a need for time to discuss it with business owners — including the owners of the Valle Produce supermarket in the Evanston Plaza shopping center.

Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) suggested referring the proposal to a committee where it could receive a thorough community discussion.

A motion to place the issue on the next City Council agenda as a special order of business was approved on a 5-4 vote with Alds. Braithwaite, Wynne, Nieuwsma and Revelle voting against it.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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