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Large Grocery Stores End Hazard Pay in Oakland, Berkeley

Immediately after Oakland and Berkeley reached the yellow tier of COVID-19 spread, as state restrictions like capacity limits lifted, and as the Delta variant continued to spread, positive cases of the virus began to trend upward. A chart showing data collected by Alameda County shows that when the county entered the yellow tier on June 8, the total cases from the previous 14 days was 455. Toward the end of July, this 14-day total passed 4,000 cases on three consecutive days, which was about a ninefold increase.

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Trader Joe's is one of the large grocery store chains in Oakland and Berkeley that have recently stopped paying their workers COVID-19 related hazard pay. Photo is of the store in the Lakeshore neighborhood of Oakland on August 3 and was taken by Zack Haber.

Workers in four different chain grocery stores in Oakland, Berkeley and Emeryville told The Oakland Post that they are not receiving hazard pay related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While Oakland and Berkeley city councils each unanimously passed ordinances last February that required large grocery stores to pay workers an additional $5 per hour due to COVID-19 hazards, both ordinances stated that once the cities reached the yellow tier — that indicating minimal COVID-19 spread — this requirement would end.

Workers in Whole Foods, Grocery Outlet and Trader Joe’s based in either Oakland or Berkeley reported that they received their last hazard paychecks in early July, about a month after these cities reached the yellow tier on June 8.

The Oakland Post contacted Oakland City Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas, who wrote The Grocery Store Worker Hazard Pay Emergency Ordinance, to ask about hazard pay ending. Bas’s chief of staff, Miya Saika Chen responded by acknowledging that since the ordinance “was tied to state guidelines determining safe reopening,” and Oakland had reached the yellow tier, the ordinance no longer applies.

Immediately after Oakland and Berkeley reached the yellow tier of COVID-19 spread, as state restrictions like capacity limits lifted, and as the Delta variant continued to spread, positive cases of the virus began to trend upward. A chart showing data collected by Alameda County shows that when the county entered the yellow tier on June 8, the total cases from the previous 14 days was 455. Toward the end of July, this 14-day total passed 4,000 cases on three consecutive days, which was about a ninefold increase.

In response to questions about hazard pay ending as COVID-19 cases increased, Chen emphasized the impact of vaccination, as vaccines have been effective in preventing serious health effects related to the virus.

“Our top priority must be to ensure everyone has accurate information about the vaccines and safe and equitable access to the vaccines in order to prevent another wave of infections,” she said.

Neither Bas nor any members her staff responded when asked if there was anything council could do or is planning to do to reinstate grocery store hazard pay. The Oakland Post posed the same question to Berkeley City Councilmember Terry Taplin, who wrote Berkeley’s hazard pay ordinance. He responded by saying that to reinstate grocery store hazard pay, Berkeley’s City Council would have to pass a new ordinance.

“The city is currently evaluating several options to respond to the Delta variant,” Taplin said. “I will have to consult with the city team and legal to discuss what can be done around new hazard pay.”

In Oakland and Berkeley, new hazard pay ordinances cannot be passed this month through City Council actions, as council meetings in both cities are on hold through August. But both Oakland and Berkeley City Councils could revisit the issue in September when meetings start up again. The grocery store workers who The Oakland Post spoke to felt they deserved hazard pay due to their hard work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“[The hazard pay] was so helpful,” said a Whole Foods worker in Berkeley. “It’s so expensive to live here and I can barely make it. I was able to put a little money away and not penny-pinch when I was getting it.”

Like all workers interviewed for this article, this worker feared retaliation from their employers for speaking to the press about their pay, and asked not to be named.

Furthermore, with temperature checks suspended, the Berkeley Whole Foods worker said they did not feel safe at work. They also claimed that in May there was an outbreak of the virus in the prepared foods section of their store. Although The Oakland Post contacted Whole Foods to ask about hazard pay, temperature checks, and the alleged COVID-19 outbreak, their media team has not responded.

The City of Emeryville, which borders both Oakland and Berkeley, has never required any grocery stores to offer its employees COVID-19 hazard pay. A worker at a Pak ’N Save in Emeryville, who has been on the job for about a year, said they were being paid Emeryville’s minimum wage, which is currently $17.13, and has never received any hazard pay. They said low pay has hit some of their co-workers with families especially hard. Children sometimes wait in the Pak ’N Save break room during shifts as the pay rates make it impossible for some grocery store workers to afford childcare.

“They are paying us the lowest they are literally allowed to pay us,” the Pak ’N Save worker said. “A lot of people are sick of it. A lot of people are quitting.”

Wendy Gutshall, a spokesperson for Safeway, the company that owns and operates Pak ’N Save, confirmed that the Emeryville store has not been paying hazard pay and that Safeway stores in Oakland and Berkeley stopped paying the $5 hazard pay after those cities reached the yellow tier. Gutshall said Safeway and Pak ’N Save paid workers an extra $2 an hour in hazard pay from March through June 13 of 2020 and gave a bonus to their frontline workers last December.

Although they have not currently been receiving hazard pay, workers at Pak ’N Save in Emeryville have faced exposure to COVID-19. Emails this Pak ’N Save worker shared with The Oakland Post from a Regional Human Resources Manager indicate that between July 21 and July 28, workers had been exposed to COVID-19 three separate times in the store.

This same worker shared a photo of a letter the store displayed in its break room indicating that one of their co-workers recently filed a complaint with State of California’s Dept. of Industrial Relations accusing the store of making them work for several days after they reported experiencing COVID-19 symptoms due to the store being short staffed.

When asked about the complaint, Gutshall said she could not speak to it directly, stating “For privacy reasons, we cannot provide specifics regarding a [worker’s] situation.” She said workers experiencing COVID-19 symptoms are instructed to go home, that the company is in close contact with such workers to investigate their contacts with other workers and ensure they receive appropriate medical care, and that such workers can access 80 hours of quarantine pay.

According to Gutshall, workers are required to check their temperature when reporting for work at Pak ’N Save and Safeway. The Pak ’N Save worker The Oakland Post interviewed said such temperature checks are optional at the store where they worked.

Both the Pak ’N Save worker and the Whole Foods worker that The Oakland Post interviewed said that as the pandemic has dragged on, increasing numbers of their co-workers have quit, which has caused their workload to intensify and increase.

“Everyone has to do a little bit of everything,” the Pak ’N Save worker said. “We don’t have enough checkers or enough people who walk around the store to help customers and clean up. But [Pak ‘’N Save] is not even willing to increase wages to meet the need for labor.”

“The work is just getting more and more stressful,” said the Whole Foods worker. “We’re running on a skeleton crew. And now we’re back to regular pay.”

Bay Area

Rosie the Riveter Trust to Celebrate History, ‘We Can Do It!’ Spirit

Tribute to storyteller and park ranger Betty Reid Soskin marking her 100th birthday

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Betty Reid Soskin/Wikimedia Commons

The Rosie the Riveter Trust is celebrating the history of the World War II home front at a September 26 gala, Making History Together. The fundraiser will highlight programs supported by the trust in collaboration with Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park: Every Kid Outdoors, Rosie’s Service Corps, and a documentary about the park’s Rosie Ambassadors, currently in production.

“We have a gem of a national park located right here in Richmond, California, where visitors can come learn about the home front and hear stories told in first person. This includes women and men who worked in the Kaiser shipyards, as well as those who spent years in the internment camps during the war,” said Sarah Pritchard, executive director of Rosie the Riveter Trust. “The history of the home front and societal changes that transpired during World War II are important lessons to preserve and share.”

The gala will also include a special tribute to Betty Reid Soskin, who turns 100 in September. Soskin helped establish the Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park, later joining the National Park Service and becoming the oldest ranger in the national park system at 85. 

Soskin’s programs at the park’s visitor center have captivated audiences since the center opened in May 2012. During her presentations, she shares her own experiences as a young woman of color during a time when segregation and discrimination were common, adding dimension to the stories of the home front too often left out of the history books. “What gets remembered is determined by who is in the room doing the remembering,” says Soskin in her 2019 film, “No Time to Waste.”

The gala will be held at the historic Craneway Pavilion, 1414 Harbour Way South (next to the park’s visitor center on the Richmond waterfront). The Craneway, which boasts a fabulous view of San Francisco, is the former Ford Assembly Plant where some 49,000 tanks and jeeps were assembled during the home front era. 

While individual tickets to the in-person event sold out on August 1, tickets to view the live-streamed event are still available. The event begins at 5:00 p.m., followed by a tribute to Soskin, highlights of the trust’s programs, a live auction, a Zoom afterparty, and entertainment.

Major event sponsors include the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Kaiser Permanente, The Marguerite Fund, Chevron Richmond Refinery, Accenture, Bank of Labor, California State Pipe Trades Council, Microsoft Corp., The Honorable Barry Goode, Northern California Carpenters Regional Council, IBEW Local 302, IBEW Local Union 595, and Marathon Petroleum. Event sponsorships are available beginning at $1,000.

Rosie the Riveter Trust is the official partner of the Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park, founded in 2000 in Richmond, California. The Park chronicles the explosive growth of wartime industry, the innovations fostered by visionaries like Henry J. Kaiser, and the extraordinary history of people who were challenged as never before and came together to overcome wartime odds with the “We Can Do It!” spirit.

Event proceeds support expansion of educational programs for all ages and preservation of historical resources for the Bay Area and the nation.

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit the trust’s web site at www.rosietheriveter.org. For sponsorships, contact Executive Director Sarah Pritchard, at 510-507-2276, or by email at sarah@rosietheriveter.org.

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Bay Area

Sept. 11, 2001, 20 years later: ‘Remembrance’ held aboard the USS Hornet Sea, Space & Air Museum

The USS Hornet Sea, Space & Air Museum, moored at the City of Alameda, hosted a “Remembrance” ceremony of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, on board the ship on the 20th anniversary, Sept. 11, 2021.

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U.S. Marine Corps Honor Guard, 23rd Marine Regiment: Sgt. Tristan Garivay, Sgt. Michael Her, Cpl. Adrian Chavez and Cpl. Quentavious Leeks. Photo by Russell Moore, USS Hornet Sea, Air & Space Museum, Community Events & Outreach

Quintin Jones, Colonel, USMC, Commanding Officer, 23rd Marine Regiment. Photo by Russell Moore, USS Hornet Sea, Air & Space Museum, Community Events & Outreach

The USS Hornet Sea, Space & Air Museum, moored at the City of Alameda, hosted a “Remembrance” ceremony of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, on board the ship on the 20th anniversary, Sept. 11, 2021.

The ceremony recognized the impact and consequences of the series of airline hijackings and suicide attacks committed on 2001 by 19 militants associated with the Islamic extremist group al-Queda against targets in New York City and Wash., D.C. Nearly 3,000 people died that day and 6,000 were injured.  This was the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil in U.S. history. 

The ceremony aboard the USS Hornet began with the presentation of the colors by the U.S. Marine Corps Honor Guard, 23rd Marine Regiment. (Pictured above.)

Leon Watkins, co-founder of The Walking Ghosts of Black History, was the Master of Ceremonies. He spoke about the extensive death and destruction which triggered the enormous U.S. effort to combat terrorism.

Daniel Costin, a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, spoke of the lasting impact of 9/11 terrorists attack on first responders. He recounted incidents where first responders rushed into the scenes of the attacks, many at the sacrifice of their own lives. More than 400 police officers and firefighters were killed that day: 343 members of the New York City Fire Department and 71 members of their law enforcement agencies.

Quintin Jones, Colonel, USMC, commanding officer of the 23rd Marine Regiment, spoke about the recovery efforts at the Pentagon following the terrorists’ attack where 125 people perished. He reflected on the actions of three first responders who recovered the U.S. Marine Corps flag from the commandant of the Marine Corps’ office at the Pentagon. This flag was still standing after the attack. It was a symbol of America’s resolve.

At the end of the formal presentations, the Marine Corps Wreath Bearers went to the fantail of the Hornet. After the playing of ‘Taps,’ they tossed a wreath into the San Francisco Bay to give final honors.

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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Bay Area

New Assemblymember Mia Bonta to Caucus With 3 Legislative Groups

The 18th Assembly District includes a large portion of the city of Oakland and the cities of Alameda and San Leandro. Bonta was elected in a special election on August 31, defeating fellow Democrat Janani Ramachandra.

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Assemblymember Mia Bonta, (third from left), with (left to right) Senator Steve Bradford, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurman, U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee, assemblymembers Isaac Bryan Reggie Jones-Sawyer, and Kevin McCarty.

Soon after Assemblymember Mia Bonta (D-Oakland) was sworn in last week to represent California’s 18th Assembly District — which covers parts of East Bay — she signed on as a member of the California Legislative Women’s Caucus (CLWC), the California Latino Legislative Caucus (CLLC), and the California Black Legislative Caucus (CLBC).

Bonta is the 11th member of the Black Caucus and the only lawmaker representing a district in the Bay Area. In the Latino Caucus, she is the 30th member, and out of 120 lawmakers in both houses of the state Legislature, she is the 39th woman.

“Special congratulations to our newest member @MiaBonta, who was sworn into the Assembly this morning! #AD18 has chosen a fantastically fearless representative, and I look forward to working with you Assemblymember Bonta! #CALeg,” wrote Assemblymember Akilah Weber (D- San Diego).

Mialisa “Mia” Tania Bonta, who is Puerto Rican of African descent, earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Yale University in 1993 and a Master of Education (Ed.M.) from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 1996. Bonta also received a J.D. from Yale University Law School in 1999.

Her work experience includes over 20 years working with nonprofits, including serving as CEO of Oakland Promise, a college and career prep program for Alameda County high school students.  She was also president of the Alameda Unified School District Board from 2018 to 2021.

“Congratulations to @MiaBonta on her election to the Assembly, which not only made her the first Afro Latina in the Legislature, but also raised the number of women in the Legislature to an all-time high,” California Lt. Gov., Eleni Kounalakis stated on Twitter.

The 18th Assembly District includes a large portion of the city of Oakland and the cities of Alameda and San Leandro. Bonta was elected in a special election on August 31, defeating fellow Democrat Janani Ramachandra.

“I am deeply honored to represent the 18th Assembly District. Our district has a long history of bold, progressive, leadership and I plan to continue this work in our diverse district,” Bonta tweeted September 7. “I’m ready to fight for bold solutions to issues like homelessness, housing affordability, climate change, and criminal justice reform for AD-18 and all Californians. I am ready to get to work.”

Bonta steps in to replace her husband, Rob Bonta, who vacated the AD 18th seat in April after Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed him California Attorney General, replacing Xavier Becerra, who is now United States Secretary of Health and Human Services.

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