In summary

Supporting laws for premium pay pushed by special interests will force store closures, job losses and a higher cost of living for everyone.

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By Rachel Michelin

Rachel Michelin is the president of the California Retailers Association and chair of Californians for a Safe and Rapid Recovery,

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Robert Rivinius, Special to CalMatters

Robert Rivinius is the executive director of the Family Business Association of California,

The last year has been difficult for every Californian. There is no doubt that 2020 will go down in the history books as one of the most trying years for our state, nation and the world.

But now, just 14 months after Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, California has the lowest coronavirus case rate in the nation and nearly half of all Californians have received at least one vaccine dose.

It is an incredible feat that wouldn’t be possible without science, technology and the willingness of businesses to step up to the plate, supply personal protective equipment, follow the governor’s guidelines and keep our community safe.

Finally, there is light at the end of the tunnel, showing that the sacrifices we have all made are paying off.

Unfortunately, local governments from Coachella to Los Angeles to San Francisco are pushing mandates that fail to recognize the progress we have made with vaccinations and lowering our daily case rates. Instead, they are supporting premium pay ordinances pushed by powerful special interests that will force store closures, job losses and a higher cost of living for everyone. It is simply counterproductive and will slow our economic recovery.

The fact is, studies show that these government mandates will add about $400 to the annual cost of food and household supplies for the typical family of four in California. And if premium pay edicts were passed statewide, 66,000 Californians could lose their jobs.

Look no further than Los Angeles and Long Beach for an example of the consequences of this damaging policy. After local politicians passed premium pay mandates, five grocery stores were forced to close and thousands of jobs were lost.

This should not have been a surprise, either. The City of Los Angeles’ report from the Chief Legislative Analyst warned that store closures and job losses could be a reality, citing that the ordinance “will eliminate all current profit margin” for grocers and especially hurt independent or family-owned grocers.

Let’s not forget that food retailers added nearly 500,000 jobs nationwide last year, helping hundreds of thousands of workers by giving them a paycheck during such uncertain times. And, the Food Industry Association reports that food retailers alone increased payroll, incentive pay and benefits by $17 billion last year to show appreciation to their employees for working in person throughout the pandemic. This is on top of the additional $5 billion they spent on PPE, cleaning and sanitation supplies, labor and vaccine incentives to keep employees and consumers safe. 

They did their part – and without the government forcing mandates on them – to keep our community safe and show gratitude to their workforce.

With the majority of California counties in the orange tier and COVID-19 hospitalizations steadily declining, Newsom has set a target date of June 15 to fully reopen our economy, eliminate the tier system and return to the normal life we once knew before the pandemic struck last year.

As Californians eagerly look forward to a safe reopening in just a matter of weeks, now is not the time to jeopardize our economic recovery and put more families out of work.

Local governments need to focus on quickly vaccinating their communities, especially as we begin to see our vaccination rates stabilize. Rather than penalize businesses for surviving the calamity of 2020, local politicians should seek to partner with them to set up additional vaccination sites throughout their community.

After last year’s struggles, Californians cannot wait any longer for a safe economic recovery. 

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