Front-line workers in grocery and drug stores will soon earn an additional $5 per hour in “hero pay” for the dangers they face amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a proposal to require national grocery and drug retailers operating in unincorporated areas of the county to provide a pay bump for front-line workers.
Supervisors Hilda Solis and Holly Mitchell, who introduced the proposal, cited the need for immediate action amid soaring hospitalizations and infection rates.
“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.
The measure would apply to companies that are publicly traded or have at least 300 employees nationwide and more than 10 employees per store.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, frontline grocery and drug retail workers have continued to show up to work despite the dangers of being exposed to COVID-19,” Solis said in a statement after the motion passed Tuesday. “Because of their work on the frontlines, families throughout the County have been able to access food and medicine they need during this pandemic.”
In March, several national grocery store chains offered $2 to $4 hourly raises to employees in response to the burgeoning pandemic. But many of those pay bumps ended in May, Solis and Mitchell noted.
With L.A. County now a leading hot spot of the nation’s coronavirus crisis, the chances of workplace transmission is even higher now than it was back in the spring.
On Monday, the county reported an additional 79 coronavirus-related deaths and 10,851 new infections. The county is now averaging 184 deaths a day over the last week and about 13,500 cases a day.
Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, Los Angeles County’s chief medical officer, said Sunday that “if you had a workplace before where you had 500 workers, there might be one person who was infected, so the risk of transmitting it to a lot of people was lower.”
“But now, with the prevalence of infection at 1% or higher, if they have 500 employees, maybe five are infected,” Gunzenhauser added. “And it magnifies the chances it can spread in the workplace.”
In L.A. County, grocery retailers have experienced a surge in outbreaks with 500 businesses currently under investigation by the Department of Public Health alone, according to Solis..
Meanwhile, some of the nation’s top grocery stores have seen record profits this year.
During Tuesday’s board meeting, Solis and Mitchell cited a Brookings Institution analysis of 13 companies — including two large national grocer chains, along with Walmart, Target, Amazon and a range of other retailers — that showed top retailers boasted an average 40% increase in profits in 2020.
The motion, called ‘Hero Pay for Frontline-Grocery and Drug Retail Employees in Los Angeles County,’ points to a growing number of outbreaks 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, according to the motion.
“The companies themselves are thriving while their workers who keep the stores open are struggling economically,” Solis said. “Nearly half of low-wage workers have reported having trouble paying their bills and a third trouble paying their rent/mortgage. It is imperative for the County to act with urgency to ensure these workers are justly compensated for the risks they are encountering on the job.”
The cities of Long Beach and Los Angeles are also pursuing similar efforts.
The Long Beach measure is expected to provide workers for companies with at least 300 employees an extra $4 per hour for at least four months.
The city of L.A.’s measure would also apply to companies with at least 300 employees nationwide, mandating an extra $5 per hour until the county’s risk level falls to yellow, the tier with minimal risk and the least restrictions under the governor’s reopening plan.