LA City Council votes to move forward with 'hero pay' plan for grocery workers

The Los Angeles City Council unanimously voted to move forward with a proposed emergency ordinance requiring large grocery and pharmacy retailers to pay employees an extra $5 per hour during the pandemic.

The City Attorney is now preparing the ordinance.

The President of the LA City Council, Nury Martinez, believes the hazard pay is necessary.

"These are our essential workers. They're risking their lives every single day by showing up to work. These are folks that don't have the luxury of getting on a Zoom call and working from home. They have to show up every single day to get to work," Martinez said. 

"Some of these grocery stores have become the epicenter of some of these outbreaks that you've seen throughout the City of Los Angeles and I think it's fair to acknowledge that these folks have risked their lives to provide an essential service to the rest of us. Grocery chain markets are making record number of economic gains. There are losers and winners in this pandemic and unfortunately our workers, people of color, are the losers and we have to make sure we don't forget them," she adds.

Martinez said the City of LA is "expecting possible legal challenges" following the lawsuit the City of Long Beach faces from the California Grocers Association for a similar ordinance.

"I think that's always a threat. I think it's also part of a PR stunt or retaliation to some of these progressive ordinances that cities are looking at throughout the country," she said.

Nate Rose, the Senior Communications Director for the California Grocers Association, said they are against the ordinances.

"We see a number of issues with these types of ordinances that have been popping up across California. Number one, we see these ordinances as being illegal so we have issued a legal challenge to the City of Long Beach for example. We see this as something that will cause a big increase in grocery prices for everyday people. We see this as being very problematic for everyone," said Rose.

Rose said grocers will not be able to absorb the costs and there will be negative consequences.

"These ordinances come out to about 28 percent increase in labor costs so you start thinking of what levers can be pulled by a store that is operating on one to two percent profit margins and there's not a lot of ways to make up for that other than increasing grocery prices," he said.

Rose said the increase would amount to a $400 a year increase in grocery costs for a family of four.

"These stores are operating razor-thin margins. It's a very mature industry, very competitive, people compete very tightly on price so one to two percent profit margins, there's not a lot of places you can make up for a 28 percent surge in labor costs. That is something that will play out with the prices you're seeing for milk, eggs, bread and that sort of thing," he said.

Rose questioned why other essential workers outside of the grocery industry are not getting extra pay.

"This [the ordinances] are a violation of the National Labor Relations Act which governs collective bargaining agreements. The National Labor Relations act so that's something that governs collective bargaining agreements. Why only grocery store workers? There's a lot of other essential workers that are not covered under these types of ordinances. We see that as a violation of equal protection rights and that's a huge issue in terms of making this unconstitutional and illegal," said Rose.

Martinez said there's already a motion by Councilman Joe Buscaino and herself that would direct the Chief Legislative Analyst to report recommendations for an ordinance that would give hazard pay to workers within several other industries too.

"As a matter of fact, my colleague Joe Buscaino and I just entered a motion this morning to tackle just that, other essential workers like janitors, warehouse workers, other types of essential work throughout the City of Los Angeles. We want to take a look at other industries as well and figure out how we can also introduce a hero's pay for those industries as well. I think the Grocers Association makes an excellent point and we'll be absolutely tackling that next," she said. 

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