A group of agricultural organizations is challenging the “hero pay” ordinance that was recently passed by the Coachella City Council. Western Growers, the California Fresh Fruit Association, and Growing Coachella Valley have jointly filed a lawsuit in Riverside Superior Court. The ordinance requires an hourly wage increase of $4 for certain employees which include agricultural workers. There has been significant concern from industry members since the ordinance was unanimously passed by the city council.
“There was no economic study that considered what the ripple effects and the unintended consequences of this would be. But $4 an hour on top of $14 an hour – the highest state minimum wage in the country – is just really piling on when you add the costs of COVID prevention,” said Jason Resnick, Western Growers Senior Vice President and General Counsel. “Every hour, every day that family farmers have to pay this increased wage and comply with the ordinance, they’re never going to see that money back again. That’s why we need a speedy determination.”
Among other things, the lawsuit makes the claim there is no factual justification for the ordinance and that it is unconstitutionally vague. Resnick explained the ordinance creates confusion as to who it actually applies to. The lawsuit also details the irreparable harm done to agricultural employers under the ordinance. Along with agricultural workers, the “hero pay” applies to employees of grocery stores, restaurants, and drug store chains. Resnick questioned the rationale used for deciding which employees warranted the increased pay if the basis of the mandate was COVID-19 risk. While grocery store employees are covered, certain big-box retailers such as Walmart and Costco appear to be exempt.
“There just doesn’t seem to be a lot of thought that went into it,” Resnick noted. “When they passed the ordinance, they didn’t even consider the fact that the number of cases in agriculture wasn’t even in the top five industries impacted by COVID in the city of Coachella. So, why was agriculture lumped in with these other industries? It just doesn’t make sense.”