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L.A. City Council approves ‘hero pay’ wage boost for grocery workers

The outside of a Vons supermarket
The L.A. City Council approved a “hero pay” ordinance, joining Long Beach and other cities in mandating a temporary wage boost for workers during the pandemic. Above, a Vons store in Long Beach.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles became the latest municipality Wednesday to support so-called hero pay for grocery store workers.

The L.A. City Council voted 14 to 1 to require larger grocery stores and drugstores to boost the pay of their workers by $5 an hour for the next 120 days.

Similar mandates have passed in Seattle, Oakland, San Jose and Long Beach and for unincorporated Los Angeles County, with legislators saying that grocery store workers are risking their health to stock the shelves during the pandemic and deserve compensation.

The California Grocers Assn. has filed lawsuits against several cities. Ron Fong, chief executive of the group, warned the mandates will have “severe unintended consequences on not only grocers, but on their workers and their customers.”

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“Grocery store workers are front-line heroes, and that’s why grocers have already undertaken a massive effort to institute measures to make both workers and customers safer in stores,” Fong said. “These ordinances will not make workers any safer.”

Supporters of the ordinance note that many grocery store workers are women who come from Black, Indigenous and other communities of color.

At Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas called the pay boost a “matter of justice.”

“It is our way of saying, we affirm you and all labor as dignity,” said Ridley-Thomas, whose district includes the neighborhoods of Koreatown, West Adams and Mid-City.

Scientists fear “nightmare scenario” where a patient is infected by two different coronavirus strains that swap mutations and become more dangerous.

Councilman John Lee was the lone vote against the ordinance, saying he was concerned that grocery stores would shut down or lay off workers.

Lee, who represents the western San Fernando Valley neighborhoods of Porter Ranch, Granada Hills and Chatsworth, called the proposal an example of the “gross overreach of government.”

Grocery store chains’ profits during the pandemic and executives’ pay was cited by some council members as a reason for the pay hike. A widely cited report by the Brookings Institution studied the profits of the three largest grocery providers — Walmart, Kroger and Albertsons — and found that together they earned an additional $6.8 billion in profit in the first three quarters of 2020 compared with 2019 — an average increase of 98%.

The city’s own analysis found the surge in sales from people stockpiling groceries in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic was temporary and didn’t translate into a profitability trend for stores. The analysis characterized the grocery store industry as a low-profit-margin sector and warned that stores could respond to the city’s ordinance by closing stores or laying off staff.

In Long Beach, Kroger announced plans to shutter two stores after that city moved to require stores to pay workers an extra $4 an hour.

The L.A. ordinance must return to the council next week for a procedural vote and will go into effect after it is signed by the mayor. Alex Comisar, a spokesman for Mayor Eric Garcetti, said Garcetti supports the ordinance.


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