LOS ANGELES - The Los Angeles City Council voted 14-1 Wednesday to approve an emergency ordinance to require large grocery and pharmacy retailers to offer employees an additional $5 per hour in hazard pay amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but because the ordinance was not unanimously approved on its first reading, the final vote will come during a second reading on March 3.
"Fair compensation is the very least that our grocery store workers deserve after all they have done for us," said Council President Nury Martinez, who introduced the original motion with Councilman Mitch O'Farrell. "Cashiers, stockers, baggers and so many more have risked their lives every day since March making minimum wage to make sure we have everything we need to stay safely at home to get through this crisis. While these companies have seen massive profits, it has not trickled down to their employees. These companies can afford to pay the hazard pay, they just don't want to."
The $5 hazard pay would be required for all non-managerial employees at grocery or drug retail stores with more than 300 employees nationwide, or more than 10 employees on-site, as well as retail stores, such as Walmart and Target, that dedicate 10% of their sales floor to groceries or drug retail.
The hazard pay would be given in addition to employees' base wages for the next 120 days.
Councilman Mike Lee, the only council member to vote no on the ordinance, said he hoped the council could come up with a different solution than this ordinance, which he called "a gross overreach of government into business and what they should be paying their employees."
"At the end, I don't want to affect the people who are going to be hurt the most by this, and that is the people who live in the poorest communities of the city of Los Angeles, the people who live in my district ... my biggest fear is for the hard-working families in those areas," Lee said.
The ordinance needed to be unanimously approved in order to pass on its first reading. Because Lee voted no, the ordinance will have a final vote on March 3.
The vote came one day after the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted in favor of adopting an urgency ordinance to require $5 additional pay for national grocery and drug retail employers in unincorporated areas of the county.
Kroger announced earlier this month that it would shutter two of its Long Beach stores -- a Ralphs location and a Food4Less store -- in response to a Long Beach ordinance requiring a $4 "hero pay'' salary boost for some workers.
The California Grocers Association has filed federal lawsuits against the cities of Long Beach, West Hollywood and Montebello, seeking to declare hazard pay mandated by those cities as invalid and unconstitutional, contending that grocers will not be able to absorb the additional pay without raising prices, closing stores, reducing hours or laying off employees.
"Extra pay mandates will have severe unintended consequences on not only grocers, but on their workers and their customers,'' CGA President and CEO Ron Fong said. "A $5/hour extra pay mandate amounts to a 28% increase in labor costs. That's huge. Grocers will not be able to absorb those costs and negative repercussions are unavoidable."
CNS contributed to this report.