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LA County Adopts Ordinance Requiring $5 Hero Pay For Grocery Workers

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 Tuesday to adopt an ordinance requiring national grocery and drug retail employers in unincorporated areas of the county to pay workers an additional $5 per hour in hazard pay for the next 120 days.

A Food 4 Less employee pushes carts past supermarket workers gathered to protest in front of the supermarket in Long Beach, California on February 3, 2021, after a decision by owner Kroger to close two supermarkets rather than pay workers an additional $4.00 in "hazard pay" for their continued work during the coronavirus pandemic. - Kroger, which owns Ralphs and food 4 Less, said it will close one of each store in April after the Long Beach city council passed a law mandating "hazard pay" for grocery store workers. Long Beach was the first city in the region to approve a hazard pay ordinance. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

Supervisors Hilda Solis and Holly Mitchell co-authored the motion that takes effect immediately and applies to store chains that are publicly traded or have at least 300 employees nationwide and more than 10 employees per store.

"Grocery and drug retail employees have continued to report to work and serve our communities, despite the ongoing hazards and dangers of being exposed to COVID-19," Solis said. "These workers, many of whom include older adults and single mothers, have put their lives on the line since the beginning of the pandemic to keep our food supply chain running and provide access to medicine our families need."

Solis said retailers have experienced increased profits as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but that workers were not getting the support they needed.

"Many are working in fear and without adequate financial support, while their employers continue to see profits grow and top executives receive steep pay bonuses," she said.

Supervisor Kathryn Barger voted against the measure, citing unintended consequences and a concern that the ordinance only covered a "small sliver" of the essential workforce.

"I have concerns about the unintended consequences that will result from this board directing salaries in the private sector," she said. "Stores can pass on additional labor costs to the public through price increases. However, they may also reduce the hours of the impacted workers or decrease the number of employees that they hire."

Earlier this month, Kroger announced that it would close two of its Long Beach stores — a Food4Less and a Ralphs — in response to a Long Beach ordinance requiring a $4 per hour salary boost for some workers.

And the California Grocers Association has filed federal lawsuits against Long Beach, West Hollywood and Montebello, seeking to declare mandated hazard pay as invalid and unconstitutional.

"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 Tuesday during a hearing in the case. "A $5 per 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."

A Los Angeles federal judge heard arguments Tuesday, but made no ruling in the association's request for a preliminary injunction to halt enforcement of Long Beach's ordinance.

Solis said the county's emergency ordinance mirrors the one approved by the city of Los Angeles. The ordinance also allows employees to choose paid leave in lieu of extra pay if the additional income would cause them to lose access to public benefits.

(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)

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