'Hero Pay': Los Angeles County to consider requiring additional $5 per hour for grocery workers

A proposal to require national grocery and drug retailers operating in unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County to pay frontline workers an additional $5 per hour in "hero pay" is set to be considered Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors.

Supervisors Hilda Solis and Holly Mitchell co-authored the motion calling for a temporary "urgency" ordinance that would apply to store chains that are publicly traded or have at least 300 employees nationwide and more than 10 employees per store.

"Such grocery and drug retail workers are among the heroes of this pandemic, putting their lives on the line -- often for low wages and minimal benefits -- in order to sustain our food system and maintain healthy communities," the motion states.

Solis and Mitchell noted that several grocery corporations offered $2 to $4 hourly raises at the outset of the pandemic, but that additional support lapsed in May.

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The motion points to a rising number of outbreaks of the virus in grocery stores and the additional stress that workers suffer when they cannot consistently maintain distance from crowds of customers at work. Workers also bear increased child care costs incurred while kids are at home distance learning.

"These employers employ a labor workforce that consists of low-wage workers who have been disproportionately impacted by the economic fallout of this pandemic, with nearly half reporting challenges paying their bills and roughly a third having trouble paying their rent or mortgage," the motion states.

These hardships come even as some publicly traded retailers have seen big increases in profits. Solis and Mitchell cited a Brookings Institution study finding that top retailers boasted an average 40% increase in profits, in total earning an additional $16.7 billion last year based on quarterly earnings numbers available as of November.

The analysis of 13 companies included two traditional grocers, along with Walmart, Target, Amazon and a range of other retailers, including home improvement stores.

"This public health crisis and the economic unraveling have widened the already deep divide between low-wage frontline workers and their employers and shareholders," according to the motion.

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As envisioned, the ordinance would cover grocery stores, convenience stores, liquor stores and other retail locations that sell food or beverage products and have a health permit as a food market retailer issued by the Department of Public Health. It may also include retail drug stores selling groceries.

If approved, the ordinance would be expected to stay in force for 120 days. Solis and Mitchell also want to consider whether the rule could apply to stores in incorporated cities.