This week, the Los Angeles City Council and its Board of Supervisors approved a “hero pay” increase for grocery store workers who will earn an extra $5 per hour. LA becomes the latest county — the largest in the nation — to adapt this emergency ordinance to compensate essential workers during the coronavirus pandemic. LA County’s hero pay lasts for 120 days and goes into effect Friday, February 26.
The county will now require companies that employ over 300 grocery workers nationally, and more than 15 employees per grocery store in LA County to pay non-managerial employees $5 more per hour in “premium pay” until the end of June. That includes companies like Target that uses 10 percent of its space for grocery sales.
Pro-business councilman John Lee voted against the ordinance. His stated chief concerns are potential layoffs and store closures, while labeling the council’s actions as government overreach, reports the Los Angeles Times. The council’s ordinance must be unanimous on its first reading, and due to Lee’s dissent receives a final vote on March 3.
In Long Beach, some concerns surrounding hero pay are already in-motion. Long Beach Mayor and the city council approved a similar hero pay ordinance in January. Grocery store giant Kroger — which owns Ralphs and Food 4 Less — announced that two of its Long Beach stores would close this April, blaming the hero pay ordinance and underperforming stores. Upon closer inspection, Long Beach Fifth District representative Stacy Mungo noted that Kroger previously threatened to shutter those the same stores multiple times throughout the years. The two stores slated for closure are in areas where other large grocers are closeby.
Los Angeles city analysts warn the emergency ordinance could force grocers to lay off grocery workers and close stores, while grocery store chains boast record profits. The Brookings Institution published its own findings in November 2020, showing major grocery chains made “$211 million in stock buybacks in the second quarter” of 2020, along with “a new $1 billion stock buyback program in September,” which sent stock prices up. The study also noted the Walmart, Albertsons, and Kroger earned an additional $6.8 billion in the first three quarters of 2020, a sharp 98 percent increase from 2019.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, grocery store workers have been essential workers on the front lines. The same city analysis cited a study of over 100 employees at a Boston grocery store which found that “employees in customer-facing roles are five times as likely to test positive for COVID-19 as their colleagues in other positions.” Plus, an October Harvard study concluded that grocery store workers face a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 than from airplane travel. And while some workers appreciate the extra pay, they are not heroes by choice.