Los Angeles Mandates Hazard Pay for Grocery, Drug Store Workers

The city’s emergency ordinance requires large grocery and drug stores to pay their employees an extra $5 per hour for the elevated health risks they face during the Covid-19 pandemic.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

LOS ANGELES (CN) — The Los Angeles City Council voted Wednesday to finalize approval of an emergency ordinance providing grocery and drug store workers a $5 an hour boost in hazard pay during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The 15-member council approved the policy requiring grocery and drug stores with more than 300 employees nationwide to provide hazard pay to non-managerial employees’ base wages for at least 120 days.

The measure had the backing of LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and LA City Council President Nury Martinez, who co-introduced the motion.

Council members noted frontline workers’ higher risk of contracting Covid-19 during the pandemic and workers’ ongoing labor contributions as justification for the temporary wage increase.

“As coronavirus cases continue to spread throughout the city, the health threats grocery and drug retail workers face are as significant now as when the pandemic began,” the ordinance says. “The risks are especially pronounced among employees who are black, indigenous, and people of color because they are overrepresented among the retail frontline workforce and are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, which has exposed and deepened social and economic inequalities.”

The ordinance also cites the imbalance of workers’ financial struggles during the pandemic compared to the nearly $17 billion in profits top retailers earned in 2020, according to a Brookings Institution report.

“The importance of fair compensation for the risks the city’s essential grocery and drug retail workers endure cannot be overstated, particularly at a time when many families are struggling financially, and workers face increased childcare costs as a result of remote learning and expensive healthcare bills if they become sick with Covid-19,” the ordinance says. “Providing additional compensation to essential grocery and drug retail workers encourages them to continue their work to keep the food and supply chain operating.”

In a Feb. 24 meeting, council members gave preliminary approval to the urgency ordinance in a 14-1 vote. 

But the ordinance required unanimous approval on the council’s first reading of the policy.

In the second reading Wednesday, only 12 votes were needed for final approval, which the ordinance obtained easily.

In nearby Long Beach, the City Council there approved its own ordinance last month providing a $4 an hour boost in hazard pay for grocery workers.

A federal judge denied a bid by the California Grocers Association to block Long Beach’s ordinance.

U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright II wrote in a Feb. 25 ruling that there’s no evidence the ordinance is preempted by federal labor law as argued by the trade group.

The ordinance was contemplated as a measure acknowledging grocery workers’ contributions and one that would encourage or ensure employee retention in supermarkets that provide critical supplies for the public, attorneys for the city said in court papers.

A day before Wright issued his ruling, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to approve an urgency ordinance requiring national grocery and drug stores chains in unincorporated areas of LA County to pay workers an extra $5 an hour in “hero pay.”

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