Los Angeles County Considers Mandatory “Hero Pay” for Grocery and Retail Food Workers

COVID-19 Update

Proposed Ordinance Would Require Employers to Pay an Additional $5 per Hour

On January 5, 2021, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a motion, proposed by new Board Chair Supervisor Hilda Solis and newly elected Supervisor Holly Mitchell, that takes steps toward requiring certain frontline grocery and retail food employers in the County to pay an additional “hero pay” wage during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The motion, which was passed by a vote of 4-0 (with Supervisor Kathryn Barger abstaining), calls for the County Counsel to prepare an urgency ordinance for the board to consider at its upcoming meeting on January 26, 2021.
Details of the planned ordinance include the following:

1. The ordinance is intended to apply to employees of grocery and retail food businesses, as defined in Appendix B-1 of the County’s Reopening Protocol for Retail Food Markets Operating for In Person Shopping. This includes but is not limited to “grocery stores, convenience stores, liquor stores and other retail locations that sell food or beverage products and have a health permit issued by the Department of Public Health as a Food Market Retail.”

2. The ordinance is designed to affect larger companies in the unincorporated portions of the County. Specifically, it would apply only to grocery and retail food stores that are located in the unincorporated areas of the County and that either (i) are publicly traded or (ii) have at least 300 employees nationwide and more than 10 employees per store site.

3. Employers subject to the proposed ordinance would be required to pay employees an additional $5 per hour in wages.

4. The proposed ordinance would sunset 120 days from its effective date.

In addition, the approved motion asks the County Counsel to advise the board as to “whether such an Urgency Ordinance can apply to incorporated and unincorporated areas of the County.” The answer to this question could significantly impact the scope of the ordinance. In general, COVID-19-related ordinances approved by the board have been limited to the unincorporated areas of the County.

During debate on the motion, Supervisor Barger asked whether the County had the authority to mandate such an additional wage for employees earning above minimum wage, and also whether the ordinance could result in a situation where stores owned by the same company but located in incorporated and unincorporated parts of the county could be paying different wages to similarly situated employees. Supervisor Sheila Kuehl asked how the County could prevent employers from lowering base pay in order to avoid the impact of the new ordinance. These questions are likely to resurface when the proposed draft ordinance comes back to the board for approval.

A similar motion was introduced in the Los Angeles City Council on December 15, 2020, by Council President Nury Martinez and Councilmembers Paul Koretz, Mitch O’Farrell and Curren Price, but to date the City Council has not taken any action on that motion. The City of Long Beach is also pursuing a “hero pay” ordinance that would require an additional wage of $4 per hour to frontline grocery store employees.

Manatt will continue to monitor the proposed county ordinance, including whether it is adopted at the board’s January 26 meeting, as well as other potential local ordinances.

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