- The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors passed a motion on Tuesday calling on the county’s legal counsel to provide a written report and draft ordinance on a $5 per hour "hero pay" bump for grocery and retail drugstore workers. The ordinance, which faces opposition from the grocery industry, will be taken to and voted on by the board on Jan. 26.
- Ronald Fong, president and chief executive officer of the California Grocers Association, warned that the wage increase would cause price hikes at grocery stores or cuts to workers' hours, according to the Los Angeles Times.
- The measure referenced publicly traded grocery or drugstore companies or those with at least 300 employees nationwide and more than 10 employees per store. Advocates of the hero pay ordinance criticized major chains including CVS and Kroger for what they viewed as insufficient compensation to essential workers in L.A. County, which is facing a COVID-19 surge this month.
As COVID-19 sweeps across Southern California and Los Angeles faces an oxygen shortage, essential workers face elevated risks and pressure is growing on grocery retail chains to recognize them and adapt their COVID-19 precautions and policies accordingly. The Department of Public Health in L.A. County is currently investigating 500 grocery retail businesses for COVID-19 infection hotspots, according to Board Supervisor Hilda Solis, who is one of the supervisors behind the hero pay ordinance.
In the early weeks of the pandemic, stores across the grocery industry rolled out "hero pay" bonuses to essential workers, most of which were around the $2 per hour range. However, as many bonuses expired in June and have not been renewed during the country’s more severe winter surge of COVID-19 cases, local representatives are putting pressure on grocers which, among retail, have fared particularly well throughout the pandemic. They have also cited the additional burdens workers face during COVID-19 surges, including childcare responsibilities with online-only schools and business closures causing financial instability for many families, as well as the health risks.
If approved, a $5 hero pay ordinance would only cover stores in unincorporated areas in the county and would expire after 120 days, with the expectation that it would only be acting as a stopgap as the county overcomes its COVID-19 case peak. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors and several city councils in Southern California, including Long Beach, are currently considering or recently approved similar hero pay measures.
Kroger has been a target for criticism recently, including in a recent Brookings Institute report, for paying some of the lowest hourly rates in the industry and for winding down its $2 per hour bonus pay in mid-May, despite reporting strong profits this year. Some grocery employers, on the other hand, have made additional bonus pay permanent this year.