July 23, 2021


Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

L.A. City Council backs $5-an-hour ‘hero pay’ raise for grocery, drugstore workers

The Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday backed a plan to temporarily boost the pay of grocery and drugstore workers by $5 an hour despite warnings that the wage hike could bring lawsuits and store closings.

The City Council voted unanimously to order city attorneys to draft an ordinance that gives grocery and drugstore workers what politicians called hero pay for the next 120 days. The council also asked city advisors for a report on the economic impact and potential legal challenges.

Tuesday’s action marks the first step in raising grocery store wages and the council must still vote on the ordinance.

Unions representing grocery store workers support the pay boost, arguing that those employees are risking their lives to stock shelves during the pandemic. Business groups argue it will drive up food costs for families and could lead to store closures.

The council’s action came one day after grocery chain owner Kroger announced it would permanently close two stores in Long Beach after that city passed an ordinance similar to the one under consideration by Los Angeles.

Kroger spokeswoman Vanessa Rosales said in an email Monday that the approval of hazard pay mandates for grocery workers in other cities could lead to more store closures.

Rosales said she couldn’t share specifics about how the additional pay requirement affected profit margins at the two stores, a Ralphs and a Food 4 Less, but said both were already “underperforming” even before the Long Beach ordinance went into effect Jan. 19.

Under the city of Los Angeles’ proposal, larger grocery and drug retail stores must provide all hourly, nonmanagerial workers $5 an hour in addition to their base wage pay for the next 120 days.

The law applies only to grocery and drugstores with 300 or more employees nationally and 10 or more employees on site. Larger stores, including Walmart and Target, that sell groceries would be included in the ordinance.

About 25,000 workers would get a pay boost under the ordinance, City Councilman Curren Price told council members during a hearing on the proposal last week.

Amardeep Gill, director of the grocery and retail project at the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, said the majority of grocery store workers are women who come from Black, Indigenous and other communities of color, and many are are parents.

“Families of color have not been able to shelter in place throughout the pandemic,” Gill said at last week’s hearing. “They were more likely to hold essential jobs and thus face an increased exposure to COVID-19.”

Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn., urged the city to do an economic analysis before moving ahead on the plan.

“This is something that is of great concern for the increased costs,” Waldman said at last week’s hearing.

He said his group “fully supports front-line workers” such as grocery store employees and believes that they should be getting the vaccine “right away.”

Councilman Paul Krekorian said the proposal would be a “a little bit of a stimulus for the local economy and the creation of jobs.”

“The people who work in grocery stores typically don’t take their money and put it in offshore accounts. They’re spending it in the local economy, so this is important as part of our economic recovery,” Krekorian said last week.

Long Beach has served as a sort of test case for hazard pay as several cities in California, including San Jose and Oakland, consider boosts for front-line workers as well. The Santa Monica City Council also voted last month to require “hero pay” for grocery workers.

A similar requirement is being considered by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.

The California Grocers Assn., which represents about 6,000 grocery stores across the state, opposes Long Beach’s efforts to boost wages, filing a lawsuit against the city in federal court last month.

Last week, U.S. District Judge Dolly M. Gee denied the trade group’s request for a temporary restraining order to stop enforcement of the ordinance before a court could hear the case. Gee set a hearing for Feb. 19 on the association’s request for a preliminary injunction to halt the law while the case is pending.