A local governing body in Los Angeles County has approved a $5 pay increase proposal for front-line grocery workers.
At an L.A. County Board of Supervisors meeting on Jan. 5, Supervisors Hilda Solis and Holly Mitchell put forth a motion to require national grocery and drug retailers operating in unincorporated areas of the county to provide a pay bump for front-line workers.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the proposal applies to publicly traded grocery store or retail drug companies, or companies that have at least 300 employees nationwide and have more than 10 employees per store site.
“While there is a light at the end of the tunnel, with the approval and administration of the vaccine, the health threats these workers face are as real as they were at the beginning of the pandemic given the surge of cases in our county,” said board chair Solis in a statement. “It is imperative that we act with urgency to support just compensation for grocery and drug retail employees.”
The motion, which passed 4 to 1 on Jan. 5, asks the county’s attorneys to draft an ordinance mandating the pay increase. The board will vote on the measure at its next public meeting Jan. 26.
Both L.A. and Long Beach city councils are considering similar measures.
Ron Fong, president and chief executive of the California Grocers Association, told the Times that the move by the board is “unprecedented” and “irresponsible,” saying the extra money amounted to a 30%-per-hour wage increase, which would likely force grocers to raise prices or consider cutting shifts or store hours. High volume during the pandemic doesn’t necessarily translate to high profit, he told the Times.
“What the Board of Supervisors does not understand is: Grocery stores are spending an inordinate amount of money running the stores under a pandemic,” including buying masks and other protective equipment for employees, much of which must be changed at least daily, adding plexiglass to registers and buying more cleaning supplies to keep stores safe, he said.
According to the Times, Solis and Mitchell quoted a liberal think tank Brookings Institute report released in November showing that the top 13 retail companies in the U.S., including Costco, CVS Health and Kroger, reported 2020 profits of $63.4 billion, which included an additional $16.7 billion compared to 2019 profits.
Fong said the report was inaccurate and that large grocers in California had continued paying $2 to $3 an hour more, and have provided bonuses and gift cards, “a plethora of extra incentives given to all employees.”
Last year grocers such as Kroger, Publix, Albertsons and others all increased worker pay as a result of the pandemic, but most of those increases have now expired.