This story was initially printed on Civil Eats.
Practically a 12 months into the pandemic, a brand new battle is brewing over grocery employees’ proper to hazard pay.
Earlier this week, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to present grocery employees a short-term $5 per hour pay improve, following the town of Lengthy Seashore’s approval in January of an ordinance that might require grocery shops with no less than 300 staff nationally to supply their staff with an additional $4 an hour on prime of their established hourly wages for at least 120 days.
The identical day Lengthy Seashore Mayor Robert Garcia signed the town ordinance into legislation, the California Grocers Affiliation (GCA), a commerce group representing the business, filed for a preliminary injunction in opposition to the town of Lengthy Seashore. The group’s criticism claims that the ordinance preempts federal labor and equal safety legal guidelines, and violates each the U.S. and California constitutions. Arguments have been heard in courtroom yesterday and a choice is predicted quickly.
The lawsuit is probably going the primary of a number of to make its solution to courtroom. After the Lengthy Seashore metropolis council amended the municipal code with their ordinance, different California cities and counties together with Santa Clara, Montebello, Oakland, San Leandro, and West Hollywood handed their very own “hero pay” ordinances. Every was instantly sued by CGA, and the Los Angeles measure may also doubtless be challenged in courtroom.
In Washington State, leaders in Seattle and the neighboring metropolis of Burien have additionally handed hazard pay ordinances, and each have been sued by business teams there.
“A disproportionate variety of folks of colour are important employees, and Seattle should proceed to cleared the path to supply aid and respect to those who have served our neighborhood all through this pandemic,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan stated in a press launch previous to that metropolis’s legislation going into impact.
These ordinances are shining yet one more highlight on long-standing inequities uncovered by the pandemic. Whereas numerous corporations offered their staff — who’ve confronted unprecedented dangers at work — with hazard pay final spring, most took it away a couple of months later, regardless of document breaking earnings.
Different tensions between the meals business and labor have additionally not too long ago made the information. As an illustration, Albertsons (which owns Safeway, Vons, and different grocery shops) introduced that it might get rid of in-house supply and private shopper positions in favor of third-party gig employees in California on the finish of February. And quick meals employees throughout the nation went on strike final week to demand a hike to the minimal wage.
This week’s trial might set an vital precedent. If the ordinance stands, the follow of giving employees hazard pay might unfold, and presumably gasoline a widespread push for increased wages and higher working situations. However a choice in opposition to the Lengthy Seashore ordinance might put a cease to the follow.
“These insurance policies are essential,” says Sylvana Uribe, a communications specialist with the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Financial system (LAANE). The group works alongside neighborhood and labor teams to guard employees’ rights and dignity, in an space onerous hit by COVID. “[W]ith new variants of the virus rising, we’d like some form of coverage, and a few form of monetary compensation for employees who’re risking their well being each single day.”
Though charges of COVID infections are falling and vaccinations are selecting up, Uribe doesn’t suppose that the hazard pay ordinances have come too late. “This virus is right here to remain for a bit longer. There’s some uncertainty round that, however having some form of security web is one thing that these employees and communities can depend on.”

Grocery store employees protest in entrance of a Meals 4 Much less in Lengthy Seashore, California after Kroger introduced it might shut two native locationsFrederic J. Brown/AFP by way of Getty Pictures

Windfall Firm Income, Beleaguered Workforce
The hazard pay ordinances differ barely from place to position. Along with the Lengthy Seashore ordinance, one in Oakland would supply a bonus of $5 an hour, relevant to staff at shops bigger than 15 thousand sq. ft owned by corporations with no less than 500 staff nationally. That ordinance will stay in place till Oakland drops into the bottom “yellow tier” of California’s COVID-19 threat evaluation.
The Oakland ordinance additionally features a waiver for collective bargaining agreements. Nevertheless, the CGA lawsuits particularly cite federal labor legal guidelines as proof that these native ordinances are unlawful.
Whereas the ordinances differ, proponents see them as essential and justified. Massive grocery store chains have profited handsomely in the course of the pandemic. In response to a November 2020 report analyzing prime nationwide grocery and retail corporations launched by the Brookings Establishment, the large three grocery chains — Walmart, Kroger, and Albertsons — took in $6.8 billion extra in the course of the first three quarters of 2020 than the 12 months earlier.
However these earnings haven’t gone to frontline workers. The report additionally discovered that the large three grocery chains averaged solely $.76 an hour in bonus funds to their staff.
No matter their pay, grocery retailer clerks are working in high-risk environments. In response to the United Meals and Industrial Staff Worldwide (UFCW), a union representing some 835,000 grocery retailer staff within the U.S. and Canada, 109 of their members died, and greater than 17,400 have been contaminated with COVID by the tip of 2020.
When he was photographed whereas signing the Lengthy Seashore ordinance into legislation, Mayor Garcia tweeted help to grocery retailer employees: “You will have earned this hero pay. Thanks in your onerous work.”
“The pandemic has created windfall earnings for these corporations and people earnings have been earned by these courageous employees.”
Many nationwide grocery chains voluntarily paid hourly hazard wages early within the pandemic. However the development started to lose steam within the late spring and early-summer as firm after firm quietly eradicated their bonuses. Grocery retailer staff continued exhibiting as much as work in more and more harmful and difficult work environments as instances surged throughout the nation in the course of the devastating fall and winter months. Their paychecks didn’t mirror the brand new actuality of widespread infections and deaths.
Native UFCW chapters have been main protests, drawing politicians to their trigger up and down the west coast. UFCW Native 324 is called within the lawsuit filed in opposition to Lengthy Seashore.
The chapters have additionally labored to color an image of worthwhile firms capitalizing on a beleaguered workforce. And the bonus pay ordinances are an indication that native governments are slowly responding to the political stress.
“[W]e are urging CEOs of main meals and retail corporations to lastly settle for their accountability and supply hazard pay for these courageous employees,” UFCW president Marc Perrone stated in a press release. “The pandemic has created windfall earnings for these corporations and people earnings have been earned by these courageous employees. Now’s the time for these corporations and our elected leaders to behave and do what is correct.” (The UFCW didn’t reply to requests for remark.)
Trade Pushback
The CGA lawsuits aren’t the one signal of opposition to the union’s push for hazard pay.
In a press release, Lengthy Seashore Space Chamber of Commerce CEO Jeremy Harris stated, “Whereas we applaud and respect all efforts by Lengthy Seashore grocery employees all through the coronavirus pandemic, the premium pay for grocery employees ordinance has been rushed and inadequately studied.”
A Los Angeles Occasions editorial referred to as bonus pay ordinances unfair for favoring grocery retailer employees at giant chains who usually tend to be unionized, excluding these at smaller shops, and important employees in different industries.
In a letter to Lengthy Seashore Mayor Garcia after mandated hazard pay was first really useful by the town council, CGA Director Tim James questioned the worth of mandating bonuses just for grocery employees. He wrote, “The advice limits its scope to solely a small subset of important essential infrastructure employees and ignores all different employees interacting repeatedly with the general public in the identical method. As all of us sadly know, COVID-19 impacts don’t discriminate in any approach.”
The day the Northwest Grocery Affiliation (NWGA) collectively filed a lawsuit in opposition to Seattle’s bonus pay ordinance, the group issued a press launch. In it, President Amanda Dalton took an analogous strategy, suggesting that the ordinance was unfairly leaving out some employees. She stated: “[O]ur expectation was a well-earned precedence place for all important employees when vaccines grew to become out there. As an alternative, the town council singled out some grocery employees for a rise in pay, whereas ignoring all different important employees.”
Opponents have additionally argued that obligatory bonuses would finally damage grocery employees, and their residence communities. In a press release CGA President Ron Fong stated, “[T]right here might be important potential destructive penalties and would doubtless lead to increased prices for groceries and elevated meals insecurity that disproportionately hurts low-income households, seniors, and deprived communities already struggling financially. These proposals might additionally hurt grocery employees themselves if shops are compelled to scale back jobs or hours for workers on account of increased prices.”
A examine funded by CGA and performed by Capitol Matrix Consulting helps that assertion. It discovered that following a revenue spike in the course of 2020, grocery business earnings started trending downward. Researchers claimed a $5 hourly bonus would improve a median household of 4’s grocery invoice by $400. Alternately, if the rise in wages weren’t handed onto shoppers, the examine stated {that a} 22 p.c reduce to staffing can be required to offset the brand new prices.
Uribe of LAANE doesn’t purchase the argument that grocery retailer corporations can’t afford to cowl hazard pay bonuses themselves. “It comes right down to company greed, placing earnings over folks,” she says. These corporations have introduced in monumental earnings all through the pandemic and so they have the means to pay their employees a $5 hazard pay.”
The combat over obligatory bonus wages took a dramatic activate February 1, when Kroger introduced the April 17 closures of 1 Ralph’s location and one Meals 4 Much less location in Lengthy Seashore in response to the native ordinance. In response to the corporate, some 200 staff might be reassigned or laid off between the 2 shops.
Lengthy Seashore Councilwoman Mary Zendejas, who proposed her metropolis’s ordinance, noticed the transfer as a political ploy. “Our Lengthy Seashore grocery employees are disproportionately low-income residents of colour and oftentimes immigrants like my household and I,” she posted on Fb. “[The fact] that firms, who’re making document earnings, would slightly use their well being and livelihoods to make some extent than pay them is simply despicable and damaging.”
In an emailed assertion from Kroger indicated that the 2 shops have been “underperforming,” and that the anticipated 20-30 p.c improve in working prices couldn’t be sustained. Six different Kroger-owned markets will stay open for enterprise in Lengthy Seashore, nevertheless.
“These shutdowns place the blame on the cities passing hazard pay, place the blame on employees who need a couple of {dollars}’ improve for his or her labor throughout a pandemic,” says Uribe. “Firms aren’t keen to take accountability for having the ability to really present this pay. They’re simply inserting the blame and utilizing this as intimidation for asks which are fairly warranted.”
“To be clear, we’re not against wage will increase,” a Kroger spokesperson informed Civil Eats. “We’ll proceed to function shops in each cities, and our associates will obtain the extra pay as mandated by the native authorities.”
“Firms aren’t keen to take accountability to really present this pay.”
Andrea Zinder, president of the UFCW Native 324, is quoted within the Lengthy Seashore Publish as saying, “Gross sales at each these shops elevated 30 p.c in the course of the pandemic.” She goes on to accuse Kroger of closing the shops to ship a message to different cities contemplating related ordinances.
Kroger not too long ago introduced that they may also be closing two “underperforming” QFC areas in Seattle, noting that the common hourly wage for Seattle QFC staff is already roughly $20, and that Kroger is providing $100 incentives for workers to get vaccinated in addition to a $50 million rewards package deal of retailer credit and factors.
The Battle in Seattle
The Seattle ordinance was signed into legislation on February 3 by Mayor Jenny Durkan. Staff of grocery shops using 500 worldwide and bigger than 10,000 sq. ft, or retailers over 85,000 sq. ft with no less than 30 p.c of area put aside for groceries, at the moment are entitled to a further $4 per hour till the town ends its COVID state of emergency.
That very same day, Seattle and neighboring Burien, which is mandating a $5 hourly bonus, have been hit with lawsuits by the NWGA and the Washington Meals Trade Affiliation (WFIA). In a press launch, WFIA President Tammie Hetrick stated, “If the Metropolis Council had requested enter from grocers, they might have seen actual knowledge that the majority the person shops in Seattle skilled considerably decreased gross sales and earnings in comparison with the 12 months earlier than.”
The lawsuit mirrors these being filed all through California — it claims the legislation is unconstitutional and supersedes federal labor legal guidelines. However this isn’t the primary time that Seattle has legislated wages, which started an incremental improve again in 2014 after a profitable Combat for $15 battle.
The ordinances goal large-scale nationwide chains that are extra doubtless in a position to take up elevated labor prices. However in Seattle native co-op PCC Neighborhood Markets, a 15-store chain unfold all through the metro area, additionally falls below the mandate. Simply earlier than the ordinance was to enter impact, firm CEO Suzy Monford wrote the mayor asking that the ordinance be revised or stricken altogether, claiming that PCC can be unable to offset bonuses, citing that the corporate incurred nearly double their 2019 web revenue in COVID bills.
However, in an about face illustrating the difficult politics of native enterprise, PCC introduced that it was negotiating with its employees consultant with UFCW Native 21 over extending the bonus pay to roughly 700 hourly workers employed exterior Seattle metropolis limits. A deal was struck February 10, with the union agreeing to contemplate implementing curbside pickup.
Not all nationwide grocery store chains have responded to the rising demand for obligatory hazard pay bonuses with retailer closures or political stress. As an illustration, Dealer Joe’s hasn’t stopped paying the $2 hourly bonus it carried out early within the pandemic. On February 1, the corporate doubled its current “thanks” premium, paying an additional $4 an hour to all non-management employees.
“[I]t’s clear that some corporations are stepping as much as do the fitting factor for these important employees,” UFCW president Marc Perrone stated in a press release.
However it’s not but clear whether or not different corporations will step up if native hero pay ordinances are defeated in courtroom. In the event that they do move these first authorized hurdles, stress will develop on the non-public sector to behave of their very own accord.
Though not talked about publicly, a letter to workers obtained by The Seattle Occasions, and purportedly signed by Dealer Joe’s executives, cites the native ordinances handed in California and Seattle as causes for the elevated bonus. The corporate concluded that not offering raises the place ordinances go into impact can be unfair to staff working in these cities.
However even when the Lengthy Seashore courtroom guidelines that hazard pay bonuses are unlawful, Uribe believes that there’s nonetheless quite a lot of power and help behind them. “Communities have stood by employees, so I nonetheless anticipate some form of push again to indirectly deliver dignity to those jobs,” she says. “I don’t know that the combat can be over.”
• Grocery Shops Proceed to Push Again In opposition to Hazard Pay for Staff [Civil Eats]

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