Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia on Wednesday signed a “hero pay” increase for the city’s grocery store workers as the coronavirus continues to devastate communities across Southern California.
The City Council unanimously voted for the ordinance in a Tuesday meeting, the Long Beach Press-Telegram reported. The law requires establishments with at least 300 employees nationwide or more than 15 employees per grocery store in Long Beach to pay workers an additional $4 per hour for at least 120 days.
Officials in the city and county of Los Angeles were also working on similar pay raises for grocery store workers.
“You have earned this hero pay,” Garcia tweeted. “Thank you for your hard work.”
Councilwoman Mary Zendejas said, “I’m so grateful to have stood with my colleagues in support of hero pay for our essential grocery workers.”
The California Grocers Association, which represents more than 300 retailers, called the mandate “illegal.” The group said it has filed a lawsuit, asking a federal court in Los Angeles to invalidate the law. It’s also seeking a preliminary injunction to stop the city from implementing it, CGA said.
In a statement Wednesday, group CEO and President Ron Fong said the city’s move “interferes with the collective-bargaining process and singles out only certain grocers while ignoring other retail workers and workers in other industries.”
He warned, “This Ordinance could lead to higher grocery prices and severely limit store viability – resulting in limited store operating hours, reduced hours for employees, fewer employment opportunities, and most concerning, possible store closures.”
A statement from the city of Long Beach said officials are aware of the lawsuit, but hadn’t yet been served.
“Once the City has been served with the lawsuit, it will be reviewed and evaluated and an appropriate response will be filed as part of the legal process,” the statement read.
The Long Beach Coalition applauded the city’s efforts.
“Grateful for the leadership of our Mayor and City Council in ensuring these unsung heroes are fairly compensated for the risks they have undertaken during this pandemic,” the group said.
Víctor Sánchez, director of the Long Beach Coalition for Good Jobs and a Healthy Community, championed the City Council’s unanimous vote, adding that it was “well within their right and authority” to implement hazard pay for grocery workers.
“It is shameful that big grocery companies, which are raking in record profits during the COVID-19 pandemic, are attempting to deny their workers the compensation they deserve,” Sánchez said in a statement to KTLA.
The coronavirus has continued to spread in L.A. County. Health officials have been increasingly concerned about workplaces such as essential retail businesses that have stayed open during the pandemic.
In Long Beach, at least 535 people have died of the coronavirus and more than 44,400 cases have been reported since the pandemic began. Among those who didn’t survive complications from the virus are the mayor’s mother and stepfather.
Garcia signed the hazard pay mandate as the city announced the expansion of coronavirus vaccine eligibility in the city to include workers in the food sector.