L.A. City Council finalizes $5 ‘hero pay’ bump for grocery, pharmacy and some retail workers

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The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday finalized an ordinance mandating a $5 an hour pay increase for workers at large grocery and drug stores facing heightened risk on the job during the pandemic.

The measure was approved 14-1, with the sole dissenting vote from Councilmember John Lee of District 12. The pay increase passed as an emergency ordinance, with the motion citing a need for “immediate protection of the public peace, health, and safety.”

The measure awaits a final signature from Mayor Eric Garcetti, who spoke in support of the move during a COVID-19 briefing last week.

“I absolutely 100% support the hero pay for our grocery workers, and with any good conscience, it shouldn’t raise food prices because grocery stores are one area that have record profits, more money than they’ve had before,” he said. “I hope they will see this and maybe be inspired by it instead of being threatened by it.”

The extra $5 per hour will come on top of employees’ base pay for 120 days.

“Fair compensation is the very least that our grocery store workers deserve after all they have done for us,” Council President Nury Martinez, who introduced the motion, said in a statement.

The measure applies to grocery stores and pharmacies with more than 300 employees nationwide, and a staff of at least 10 in the city of L.A.

Also eligible are workers at some other large retail stores, like Target and Walmart, that dedicate at least 10% of floor space to food or medication items. However, those locations must be larger than 85,000 square feet, disqualifying at least five Target stores in the city, according to a report by Los Angeles’ chief legislative analyst.

Many labor groups have hailed the pay bump for essential workers. And a poll released late last month by the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies showed 77% of Californians support hazard pay for essential workers who have yet to be vaccinated.

According to United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 770, some major chains like Food 4 Less and Ralphs had agreed last March to increase the pay of the grocery workers in L.A. by $2 an hour, but ended the hazard pay six weeks later as their profits skyrocketed.

“It’s unconscionable to see how grocery corporations have doubled their profits during the pandemic — with Ralphs and Albertsons alone raking in $6.8 billion in profits — while they still refuse to compensate the front-line workers making this windfall possible,” John Grant, president of UFCW 770, said in a statement.

L.A.’s hazard pay mandate is among several put in place across Southern California over the past few months. Long Beach and Montebello both approved a $4 an hour “hero pay” boost in January, and late last month the Board of Supervisors approved $5 per hour in hazard pay for unincorporated areas of L.A. County.

On Tuesday, the West Hollywood City Council extended its $5 an hour pay increase for grocery workers to pharmacy staff as well, but that won’t take effect until April 16, according to WEHOville.

A $4 per hour pay hike passed last week by the Irvine City Council is set to kick in later this month, the Orange County Register reported.

In Long Beach, the pay bump was met with swift opposition from Kroger, the parent company of Ralphs and Food 4 Less, which announced it would close two stores in the city. The move prompted workers to protest.

The city of L.A.’s ordinance stipulates that no employers can retaliate or discriminate against their workers in response to the ordered pay hike.

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