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City of Coachella passes ‘Hero Pay’ raise for essential workers, including farmworkers

The city of Coachella Wednesday night unanimously passed a new "hero pay" ordinance, requiring an additional $4 per hour for workers in grocery stores, pharmacies, restaurants and agriculture for at least the next 4 months.

Coachella is the first city in the country to mandate hero pay for farm workers, city leaders said.

"Wow, the hero pay will definitely help me," said Lorena Hurtado, a Rite Aid pharmacy worker in Coachella. She's worked there for the last 29 years. She said it's been scary working through the pandemic.

"It's so stressful to work, being exposed to the virus," Hurtado said.

Hero pay only applies to businesses with more than 300 employees nationally, and more than five workers within the city.

"That doesn't hurt the mom and pop," said Joe Duffle, president of labor union UFCW Local 1167. "That does not hurt the small business and that's what we've been advocating for from the very get-go."

Duffle said the numbers don't lie – essential workers risk their health for their paychecks. "Someone that's on the frontline in a grocery store, in a drug store, or has been deemed essential has had a much higher rate of infection than anyone else," he said. "That goes for the farm workers that are down in the eastern portion of the Coachella Valley as well."

In Wednesday's council meeting, five agriculture companies opposed the ordinance. One CEO said it would increase his payroll by more than $100,000 while his competitors just across city lines will face no impacts.

And concern persists about negative effects after Kroger closed two grocery stores in Long Beach, the company said a direct result of the city requiring an extra $4 an hour hero pay.

Essential workers in Coachella are now excitedly looking forward to a temporary pay raise.

"It would help me make my payments on time, especially my utility bills which I'm always paying them late," Hurtado said.

Other cities are exploring hero pay as well. Cathedral City city council heard Wednesday night from a workers advocate for it to be implemented there. Palm Springs is expected to consider a similar ordinance as soon as next week.

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Jake Ingrassia

Joining News Channel 3 and CBS Local 2 as a reporter, Jake is excited to be launching his broadcasting career here in the desert. Learn more about Jake here.

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