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LA County Orders Grocery Stores to Fork Over 'Hero Pay'

Board of Supervisors approves $5/hour mandate for workers in designated stores for next 120 days
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 24, 2021 6:35 AM CST

(Newser) – A mandate kicking off this week will put more money in the pockets of grocery workers in Los Angeles County for braving the pandemic to clock in. Starting Friday, national grocery and retail drug stores in unincorporated areas of the county have to start forking over $5 more an hour to their front-line workers as "hero pay," a hazard bonus that will be mandated for the next four months, ABC7 reports. With a 4-1 vote, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved the "urgency" ordinance, which applies to publicly traded union and nonunion chains that have at least 300 employees nationwide and more than 10 employees per store. The Los Angeles Times notes the move would affect about 2,500 hourly workers. "These workers have put their lives on the line since the beginning of the pandemic," Supervisor Hilda Solis tells City News Service. "Many are working in fear and without adequate financial support, while their employers continue to see profits grow."

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But while worker unions are smiling, grocery store associations and others aren't. Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who voted against the measure, says it applies to only a "small sliver" of essential workers, and that there could be "unintended consequences," such as stores slashing workers' hours, laying them off, or raising prices for customers to compensate for the new cost. GlobalData retail analyst Neil Saunders tells the Times that underperforming stores in rural spots, small suburbs, and low-income neighborhoods might end up shuttering. This could especially happen as restrictions loosen and people start heading back to restaurants, causing grocery sales to drop and stores to lose profits, says Burt Flickinger III of the Strategic Resource Group consulting firm. Some also argue the hazard pay should come from state and federal coffers, not the stores themselves. "The hero pay, ethically and financially, should come out of the COVID-19 relief bill," Flickinger says. (Read more Los Angeles County stories.)

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